In an essay on Medium, Ford Autonomous Vehicles CEO Sherif Marakby announced that Ford Motor Company will be the first automaker to officially test autonomous vehicles on the streets of Washington, D.C. – the U.S. Capital. The automaker is establishing a self-driving car business there, which will work with district officials to determine how to best deploy the vehicles in an equitable way across all neighborhoods.
The potential benefits for Washington, D.C. residents, according to Marakby, include offering new ways to deliver food and other products, and “filling gaps” in public transportation access, making it “more affordable and easier” for many citizens to find employment. Some of that employment could even come from Ford itself, as the automaker is collaborating with the D.C. Infrastructure Academy to hopefully train vehicle operators, and with Excel Automotive to train automotive technicians whose work could one day include self-driving cars.
Sherif Marakby says that Ford is “fortunate” to have an ally in Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has been a strong supporter of new mobility initiatives, and helped make D.C. the first U.S. city to conduct pilots with food delivery bots. Now, D.C. is joining Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Miami as the latest test bed for Ford’s autonomous vehicles.
For Ford, the goal is still to feel out the demand, feasibility, and best practices for deploying self-driving cars in a ride-hailing service, which the automaker plans to launch in 2021. But the automaker might have had another goal in mind when it selected D.C. as its next city for AV testing: getting those autonomous vehicles right in front of U.S. lawmakers. In order to gain full access to America’s public roads in the future, self-driving cars will need regulatory support, and proving themselves in front of the nation’s lawmakers might just help make that happen.