In pouring rain, self-driving delivery vans show off autonomous skills

In a demo ride Thursday in the pouring rain, a small Ford van with ThorDrive branding and four Velodyne LiDAR sensors that use light to measure distance between objects, sensors, and cameras drove some passengers around downtown Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley.

A safety driver and operator in the front seat kept riders posted on what and why the car was doing what it was doing — but after Thursday’s launch ThorDrive won’t have to deal with pesky humans asking questions and judging how the car stops or slows down.

Instead, the focus will be on delivering orders from hardware store chain Ace Hardware, starting with the Hassett Hardware store in Palo Alto and a few of its big clients, like the local fire department and the Channing House retirement community.