Ford and Domino’s to Test Acceptance of Driverless Pizza Delivery

Updated on
  • Partners cook up trial aimed at assessing customer acceptance
  • Robot rides outfitted with compartment to keep the pies warm

Race To Build Self-Driving Cars Accelerates

Driverless pizza delivery will take a test spin of sorts in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as Domino’s Pizza Inc. and Ford Motor Co. team up to research reactions to robots bringing dinner to the driveway.

But while the hot pies will arrive in an autonomous-capable Ford Fusion, there will still be a company engineer at the wheel, manually driving the car through the streets of the Midwestern city that’s home to the University of Michigan. The goal of the partnership is to examine how customers react to stepping out of their homes and walking to the car to fetch their pizza from a locked warming compartment, rather than having it carried to their doorstep.

Driverles pizza delivery

Source: Domino’s Pizza

“We’re interested to learn what people think about this type of delivery,” Russell Weiner, president of Domino’s USA, said in a statement. “The majority of our questions are about the last 50 feet of the delivery experience. For instance, how will customers react to coming outside to get their food?”

For Ford, the Ann Arbor experiment that will take place over the next several weeks is a chance to look at new ways to meet its promise to have self-driving cars on the road by 2021. New Chief Executive Officer Jim Hackett has indicated he wants Ford to do more than just build robot taxis, as originally envisioned by his predecessor Mark Fields, who was ousted in May. Hackett is considering delivery of goods such as food as another potential revenue source for autonomous autos.

Grocery Delivery

Ford is in talks with other potential partners, including grocery chains, to test various delivery methods, Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous and electric vehicles, said in a phone interview. He declined to say whether Ford is talking to Amazon.com Inc., which recently acquired Whole Foods grocery.

The automaker will run tests with “a number of partners” as it works to come up with ways to utilize the thousands of self-driving cars it plans to deploy in four years, Marakby said. He recently returned to the company after spending a year working on self-driving vehicle research at Uber Technologies Inc.

“For a normal product program, a vehicle program in automotive, you’d firm up a lot of assumptions and you know exactly what you’re going to do,” he said. “But as we’re talking, we don’t know; we’re learning. And we are going to incorporate things as we go, which is the beauty of autonomous vehicles.”

Customer Reaction

Although fully equipped with autonomous sensors, the car used in the Domino’s test will not be in self-driving mode because the research focuses on customer reaction to robot pizza delivery, rather than proving the driverless technology, said Alan Hall, a Ford spokesman.

Order touchpad

Source: Domino’s Pizza

“This phase of the research is not about the autonomous driving capability of getting from Point A to Point B,” Hall said in a phone interview. “It’s about creating that last 50-feet scenario and observing how customers will interact with the vehicle. Does it need to park at the curb, or do you have to be in the driveway?”

One factor Domino’s is testing is whether the inconvenience of stepping outside to grab your pizza is offset by not having a driver to tip, said Kevin Vasconi, the pizza maker’s chief information officer.

“What about when it’s raining, what about that first snowy day, what about the fact that I eat pizza in my pajamas? Are people going to feel comfortable with that?” Vasconi said in an interview. “What might entice them is the fact that they don’t have to tip their delivery driver. That may be enough incentive for people to say, ‘Hey, maybe I will take the driverless delivery.”’

Vasconi said customers will still have the option of a human driver for the “foreseeable future.”

Rainy Days

During the six-week test, Domino’s won’t offer driverless delivery on rainy days or football Saturdays because “there’s too much distraction that would slow everything down,” Vasconi said.

Once customers walk out to the vehicle, they’ll punch in a unique code on a tablet near the car’s back door that will unlock a heated compartment that can hold up to four pizzas and five sides. Cameras on the car and inside the warming compartment will capture how the customer retrieves the order.

During the trial, Domino’s customers in Ann Arbor will be randomly selected to have their pizza delivered in this way. Customers who agree to take part in the test will be able to track their pizza as it rolls through the streets via an app on their phones.

The trial “is the first step in an ongoing process of testing that we plan to undertake with Ford,” said Patrick Doyle, Domino’s president and CEO.

Driverless deliver could hit the roads for real early next decade, Vasconi said.

“We’re pretty convinced as a company that we’ve got to figure out the next generation of delivery,” he said. “When these vehicles are ready, we want to be first to the market.”

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