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Self-driving food-delivery vehicles get an artistic facelift 

Brooke Snow's design will be featured on self-driving

Brooke Snow's design will be featured on self-driving vehicles that deliver fresh food to older adults with mobilitychallenges.  Credit: Detroit Free Press / TNS/Kirthmon F. Dozier

Happiness and excitement were two things that you could see on student Brooke Snow's face when she saw a new autonomous vehicle parked outside the school she attends in Detroit on Monday.

The image on the vehicle's sides showed several people standing next to each other, representing different abilities, cultures and races.

"I wanted to portray people from different backgrounds — like everybody," said Brooke, 16, who designed the artwork. "It's never just one type of person. There's always somebody else that doesn't fit in the box."

The self-driving vehicle, which also is an electric vehicle with a top speed of 25 mph, will be used to deliver 10,000 pounds of fresh food over six months to mobility-challenged seniors who live at Rio Vista Detroit Co-Op Apartments in southwest Detroit. The vehicle will deliver about 10 totes worth of food twice a month to assist about 20 residents.

The food-delivery program, a pilot, is a partnership between Ford Motor Co. and the Ford Motor Company Fund. The autonomous vehicle will be operated by the Ford future tech autonomous vehicle team.

Residents at Rio Vista already take part in the Ford Resource and Engagement Center On the Go program, which was launched early this year with the help of the Ford Fund and Gleaners Community Food Bank. Through that partnership, 2.4 million pounds of food have been delivered. But now seniors' access to food will double with the use of the free shuttle.

"We're constantly thinking about how to expand our reach in communities for those who don't have access to the most basic goods, like groceries or warm meals," Joe Provenzano, mobility director, Ford Motor Company Fund, said in a news release. "Bringing Ford's mobility expertise together with local collaborations allows us to create innovative solutions that make communities stronger and people's lives better."

Brooke stood beside her parents, Kellee Johnson and Booker Snow, on Monday as a presentation was given outside the Detroit School of Arts. Brooke is a 12th-grader at the school.

"I feel like it's been a long journey," Brooke said. "It was hard to imagine seeing it on the [vehicle]. But seeing it, it's like, oh my gosh, I did this."

Ford reached out to the Detroit School of Arts to offer the design opportunity to students. Brooke's artwork was chosen out of a few students who submitted a sketch.

"I can't express just how amazed we were when we got the submissions for artwork," said Robert Moser, global head of Experience, Design and Product at Ford. "The quality was so far beyond anything we could have expected, and Brooke's [artwork] is an example of that quality. We left a lot of the details up to the students — really impressed with how spot-on Brooke's work was in reflecting this point in time and all the pain that we feel in society and what's going on around the world.

"It's also extremely effective at communicating our mission ... to bring more mobility and transportation equity to underserved populations."

Detroit School of Arts Principal Lisa Reynolds said Brooke is an "exemplary artist" and is creative in several platforms. She even made the sweater she wore to the event.

"She is a creative force; a brilliant young African American woman that you need to know, because she's going to make waves in the world," Reynolds said of Brooke. "She deserves all the recognition and adulation. And she is confident and humble enough to receive it and go to the next level."

Brooke was awarded $5,000 for her artwork, which she plans to use toward college tuition. She has goals of attending Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, and she's exploring different areas of design and fashion to study.

Residents and visitors will be able to see Brooke's artwork as the food shuttle drives from the southwest Detroit Ford Resource and Engagement Center to Rio Vista. The canned foods, fresh produce and dairy products will be unloaded upon arrival, and a safety driver will be present in the vehicle at all times. A resident or administrator will come out to pick up the food items during each delivery.

Sensor nodes have been installed along the vehicle's route, and Ford is working with Quantum Signal AI, which is a Ford subsidiary, to conduct remote operations research. This effort is separate from Ford's work with its technology partner Argo AI, which is spearheading the self-driving system, and the company is committed to creating self-driving efforts in cities like Austin, Texas; Miami and Washington, D.C.

Part of the Detroit-based food shuttle program is to conduct research on mobility solutions in and around Michigan Central Station in the Corktown neighborhood.

"Industrywide, you're going to see a lot of these kinds of vehicles and solutions hitting the streets," Moser said. "We're extremely excited about this endeavor. There's a tremendous amount that we're going to learn from this. It's going to help us figure out the best ways to do more and more good for the community and bring these kinds of solutions to market."

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