The majority of drivers might not be hungry for autonomous vehicles yet, but some residents of Ann Arbor, Mich., will get a taste of what it’s like to have a self-driving vehicle deliver pizza to their homes.
Ann Arbor-based Domino’s Pizza and Ford are launching what they’re calling “an industry-first collaboration to understand the role that self-driving vehicles can play in pizza delivery.”
Over the next few weeks, randomly selected Domino’s customers in Ann Arbor will have the option to receive their delivery order from a Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle, which will be manually driven by a Ford safety engineer and staffed with researchers.
Customers who agree to participate will be able to track the delivery vehicle via GPS using an upgraded version of Domino’s Tracker, according to Domino’s and Ford. As the self-driving vehicle approaches, they also will receive text messages that will show them how to retrieve their pizza using a unique code to unlock the “Domino’s Heatwave Compartment” inside the vehicle.
“We’re interested to learn what people think about this type of delivery,” said Russell Weiner, president of Domino’s USA. “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? We need to make sure the interface is clear and simple. We need to understand if a customer’s experience is different if the car is parked in the driveway versus next to the curb. All of our testing research is focused on our goal to someday make deliveries with self-driving vehicles as seamless and customer-friendly as possible.”
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As both companies begin to examine perceptions of driverless food delivery, the research conducted in pilot projects such as this one will be important.
“As delivery experts, we’ve been watching the development of self-driving vehicles with great interest, as we believe transportation is undergoing fundamental, dramatic change,” said Patrick Doyle, Domino’s president and CEO. “We pride ourselves on being technology leaders and are excited to help lead research into how self-driving vehicles may play a role in the future of pizza delivery. This is the first step in an ongoing process of testing that we plan to undertake with Ford.”
Local partner Roush Enterprises fabricated the prototype vehicle’s pizza container, the Domino’s Heatwave Compartment, based on its experience working with Domino’s on the DXP delivery vehicle in 2015. Ford and Domino’s completed preliminary testing of the delivery process using the vehicle in self-driving mode at Mcity, the simulated urban environment on the University of Michigan’s campus. The city of Ann Arbor also has been supportive of the testing process, the companies noted.
“I’m delighted that Ann Arbor continues to be at the forefront of autonomous-vehicle research,” said Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor. “While it’s pizza delivery today, my hope is that collaborations such as this will enable even more innovations tomorrow.”