Ford, Domino's partner for self-delivering pizza vehicles

Ford, Domino's partner for self-delivering pizza vehicles

Autonomous vehicle research provides possible solution to the most pressing problem facing the US today.

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August 30, 2017
By Robert Schoenberger

Cleveland, Ohio – Am I missing something? Is pizza delivery such as complicated process in America that it deserves specialized vehicles and millions of dollars of R&D funding?

Ford Motor Co. and Domino’s Pizza apparently think it is as the two have partnered to test self-driving Ford Fusion sedans as pizza vehicles. Residents of Ann Arbor, Michigan, will be able to order pizzas, greet the car when it arrives in their driveways, enter a code, and collect their pizzas.

This improves the current process – person brings the pizza directly to my door, takes my money, hands me a pizza – in what way precisely?

“We believe transportation is undergoing fundamental, dramatic change,” said Domino’s President and CEO Patrick Doyle. “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.”

Clearly, there are some problems with the current business model. Drivers can be hard to find, and there’s legal liability if they get involved in car accidents. Some drivers are rude and give customers a negative impression of the restaurant.

On the other hand, autonomous vehicles aren’t cheap, and most cities and states still require a human driver to be present in the vehicle, so labor costs won’t fall any time soon.

Part of what Domino’s hopes to learn is whether or not autonomous systems would be better. Will customers accept the negatives (having to go outside, having to navigate a touchscreen system, having no one to complain to if the car took a sharp turn, sending the anchovies off the edge of the pie) to avoid eye contact with strangers and the “Do I have to tip this guy?” internal debate.

Sure, the pizzas will arrive hot because the security code activated storage unit will be a mini oven. But Domino’s already pioneered that concept with the DXP specialty vehicle – a Chevy Spark announced in 2015 that can carry 80 hot pizzas.

“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 50ft of the delivery experience. For instance, how will customers react to coming outside to get their food?”

Well, if Ford and Domino’s are in for a penny, why not solve that 50ft service gap with even more technology? Fanuc could supply a robot that could collect the pizza from the warming oven and deposit it on an automated guided vehicle from Otto Motors.

Hmm, the customer would still have to bend down to get the pizza. An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) could easily carry the pie from the car to the door.

The Ford/Domino’s project is a test, and it won’t involve real self-driving cars. The Ford Fusion sedans used in the test will be manually driven by engineers and researchers who will monitor how people are using the vehicles.

The companies say the project will last for the next few weeks.

About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

rschoenberger@gie.net