Easy as Pie: Domino’s Set to Deliver Driverlessly

By: Bridget Clerkin September 5, 2017
Domino's and Ford Motor Company are testing out a self-driving Ford Fusion for pizza deliveries in Ann Arbor, Michigan this month.
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One large pie with extra cheese, pepperoni, and a side of robot?

That could be your future favorite pizza recipe, if Domino’s gets its way.

The prolific pizza maker struck a tasty deal with Ford Motor Company recently, leasing out a fleet of specialty Ford Fusions to bring the pie directly from the store to your front door—driver-free.

The delivery machines will be tested in Ann Arbor, Michigan starting later this month, and the experiment will include a group of engineers and analysts in each car—at least at first—to ensure the vehicle makes the trip safely. (No word yet from Domino’s if tipping the new-age delivery crew will be customary.)

The autonomous autos will be dispatched to random customers—up to six a day—who can track the car’s whereabouts through their Domino’s app. A unique 4-digit code will give them access to the special Heatwave Compartment of the car—essentially an onboard oven that ensures no pizza goes delivered lukewarm—allowing them to retrieve their meal from the small compartment.

And while the test hasn’t begun yet, the potential information it could generate already has analysts’ mouths watering.

Chief among the answers they seek: whether people will be willing to walk outside for their pie. Eliminating the actual door-to-door aspect of delivery will take a substantial change in our learned behavior, even if it only revolves around the few steps it takes to walk to the curb.

Other questions involve how people will react to the vehicles, and whether or not they’ll latch on to the idea. Researchers in England recently conducted a similar experiment, testing how people felt about a robo-car delivering their groceries.

And should the move prove popular, it could also help Domino’s save a lot of dough. Though a representative of the company told The New York Times that the cars were being considered for dealing with driver shortages—rather than reducing labor costs—it’s easy to see how Domino’s could move in that direction once people become more familiarized with the self-driving concept.

And as far as Ford—and other top automakers—are concerned, that familiarization will be happening soon. The same model of Fusions being used in the Domino’s experiment are being eyed for a 2021 commercial release, with that year also named by a spate of other automakers as the time to publicly unveil their own driverless models.

Data garnered from the Ann Arbor test could further help Ford bring that to fruition, giving the car manufacturer many more miles to track the changing performance abilities of their vehicles—and the chance to make that delivery on time.

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