Innovation and connection drive these 'Canes toward a self-driving service in Miami.

Innovation and connection drive these 'Canes toward a self-driving service in Miami.

By Katy Hennig

Innovation and connection drive these 'Canes toward a self-driving service in Miami.

By Katy Hennig
Three alumni team up with Ford to drive mobility for a self-driving service in Miami.

Getting around town in Miami will look much different soon. Three 'Canes working together at Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC are focused on building a self-driving business which will launch as a commercial service in Miami in 2022. The business will include a fleet of fully autonomous service vehicles increasing mobility of both passengers and products.

Alexander Buznego, is the Market Manager at Ford AV LLC and recently strengthened his Miami AV team, connecting with and hiring two fellow University of Miami graduates—College of Engineering alumnus Nick Chong as the operations lead, and Miami Herbert College of Business alumna Jaife Rainelli, to guide business development.

As part of this new self-driving commercial service, the team is conducting business pilots to help build out the customer experience and fleet operations to ensure the business is profitable, scalable and ultimately makes people’s lives better. The team is focused on building out Ford’s self-driving business in Miami and this includes working closely with Miami-Dade County, building partnerships with businesses and conducting business pilots to develop the best experience for Miamians.

"What Ford is currently testing, and what we are just a few years away from, is technology that allows a driver to disengage completely and a vehicle that will operate without a human driver," Buznego explains. "The vehicle will be able to handle all elements of a particular journey, within a defined geo-fenced area, or Level 4 autonomy. That's what we are building."

The dynamic team with their integrated backgrounds and skillsets, is gearing up to introduce the self-driving service to the Miami community and be fully rolling in less than two years.  

Buznego’s perspective on building the right team to foster success for such a complex endeavor includes trust in the 'Cane network. "We are building a service that will be part of the future of transportation here in Miami," shares Buznego. "What we’re working on has the potential to be transformative, so maintaining high standards for hiring is really one of the more critical pieces of the puzzle for me. Through a mutual connection, also a fellow alumnus, I was referred to both Jaife and Nick."

"When evaluating teammates to go on a journey like the one we have ahead of us, it’s critical to see integrity, humility, passion, curiosity, optimism and an entrepreneurial spirit," Buznego said. "Jaife and Nick both embody those values in spades. The three of us complement one another exceptionally well and I couldn’t be more proud to have them as teammates as we bring these new services to life in Miami.” 

Learn more about these 'Canes and Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC in this Q & A:

Alex Buznego, M.B.A. '10, Market Manager: Miami Herbert Business School

What was your area of study and how does that align with where you are in your role with Ford today?

Alex: My business school experience at UM fostered a curiosity in the intersection of technology and business. In the ten years since graduating with my MBA, I’ve had the great opportunity to think about how best to align the potential of emerging technologies with the remarkable changes to consumer preferences and behaviors.

Now, I have the distinct honor of helping Miami prepare for a technology I think may be as transformative as any. I get to be part of co-creating a new future state where self-driving vehicle services will serve to make our great community even greater. The potential is there for the introduction of a new sustainable and equitable transportation option that can improve our quality of life, encourage economic opportunity and reduce congestion. Potential is one thing, but my experiences have taught me that successful implementation of such a new technology must be accompanied with extensive grassroots work to educate, to listen, and to ensure the services are adjusted for Miami’s unique context. Ford saw things the same way and so I knew this was an incredible opportunity to drive a meaningful impact on the town I love. 

Nick Chong, BSIE '12, Operations Lead: Industrial Engineering, College of Engineering

Can you share details about the pilot programs you’ve conducted so far in Miami? What does the future look like—from now until launching in 2022?

Nick: All of our research and learnings that we have conducted and will conduct, are helping us to build out our customer experience, technology and business to deliver the most trusted service to make people’s lives better here in Miami.

Two years ago, we conducted business pilots in Miami with Postmates, Domino’s and local businesses. We had two goals with our pilot programs: first, to learn about how people will need, and want, to interact with self-driving vehicles so we can apply the learnings to the design of our vehicle we will launch the service with. Second, we tested how we will maximize utilization, or the use of our self-driving vehicles by working with business partners.

As a result, we saw that overall customers have had a very positive reaction to the experience. We have found that having a pre-set delivery point will help improve the customer experience. Also, multi-unit dwellings present unique operational challenges for autonomous vehicle delivery. 

Between now and ahead of launching our service, we will conduct multiple pilots to help us build our business and user experience. These pilots could be used with cars driven manually, not in autonomous mode, and are separate from our self-driving technology testing.

Some of the pilots we will be conducting will be around our fleet management and how we service vehicles. For example, in a post-COVID-19 world it will be very important that we understand and build out how we will clean and sanitize our vehicles so that every customer has the best, most trusted experience. Also, we will be testing our TaaS software, which will help inform our user experience with an app that is used for ride-hailing.

When Ford launches it self-driving service, it will require a fleet of vehicles in order to serve customers. For our self-driving business to be successful and profitable, we need to ensure our fleet is being optimized and utilized at its full capacity, and that every customer is given a great experience. For example, if there is low-peak time for ride-hailing, we want to ensure we are utilizing the vehicle for package delivery.

Jaife Rainelli, B.B.A. '10, Business Development: Marketing, Miami Herbert Business School

How does your role with the Ford AV LLC launch focus on collaboration with business partners, educating the public, and working with the City of Miami?

Jaife: Ford’s approach to launching this service has been to collaborate with the local government in Miami-Dade County to ensure a business is built and designed to fit in the context of the county. Both the State of Florida and Miami-Dade County have been highly supportive and collaborative partners for Ford, which we believe is important as we continue to build out this service. Our team will continue to work closely with Miami-Dade County to co-collaborate as we build out our business.  

In my role, I will also be engaging with the community and businesses to have an open dialogue to ensure we shape our business in a way that fits seamlessly in Miami. If you have ideas and think there are opportunities we can collaborate, the door is open to reach out to our team. 

This is an entirely brand new mode of transportation, and something that the majority of people haven’t been able to experience. If people don’t understand the technology, or trust it for that matter, then it won’t be utilized nor will it be successful. That is why education, having an open dialogue with the community and listening is key ahead of launching our self-driving service in 2022 so that we ensure we deliver a service that people want and ultimately trust.

We encourage Miamians to reach out to us, ask questions, share your insight and let us know if you want to stay connected. We want people to be comfortable with the technology and service when it launches, and keeping an open dialogue of transparency to educate is top of mind for us. Already, we have done a lot of listening to understand what Miamians want, and we will continue to do this.

We also recommend checking out our Medium blog, 'Self-Driven,' where we house all of our latest news and insights, so you can stay up-to-date on our plans.

*Stay tuned to see Alex, Nick, and Jaife: and learn more about the Ford AV launch in Miami on June 4, for Coffee with a 'Cane.