American car behemoth Ford will bring autonomous vehicles to the District in early 2019, the company and Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Monday. D.C. will be the second city where the Dearborn, Michigan-based company will test driverless cars, after launching them in Miami last February, and Ford will be the first company to test such vehicles in the District.
“We believe that ensuring widespread access to mobility services enabled by self-driving vehicles is vital,” writes Sherif Marakby, the CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles, in a post on Medium. “Over the next year, the fleet will grow as we expand testing areas, including within the city’s downtown core.” The company says it seeks to begin commercial service in 2021.
Earlier this month, some residents noticed a Ford sedan that was labeled as a “self-driving test vehicle” traversing Capitol Hill, WUSA9 reported. Ford has partnered with Pittsburgh-based artificial intelligence company Argo AI to map the District’s streets and gather data across all of the city’s eight wards. Ford and Argo AI will store the cars and computer servers in a warehouse in Northeast. The District and Ford will also collaborate on job training for residents for “vehicle operator and vehicle technician positions,” Bowser’s office explains.
Last February, D.C. established an “autonomous vehicle working group” to help plan for the arrival of driverless cars in the city. It includes representatives from a number of agencies. Ford’s autonomous fleet would both transport passengers and deliver goods like fresh food. Officials say safety will be a centerpiece of the effort since the technology is relatively novel.