Piping hot food delivered at your doorstep is one of the greatest comforts of modern day. Now to go a step further, your pizza will be delivered by a robot in a self-driven car. Isn’t it comforting to know that you won’t have to worry about getting out of your worn-out T-shirt because you have to open the door to a delivery boy and indulge in small talk? You will just have to walk down your driveway and pick up the pizza box from a robot.
Ford and Domino’s Pizza are teaming up to test self-driving pizza delivery cars in an effort to understand how customers respond to and interact with autonomous vehicles. Ford is putting one of its autonomous vehicles to good use by delivering pizza in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For the next few weeks, randomly selected Domino’s customers will get the option to have their favourite crust brought over by a modified Ford Fusion Hybrid, complete with roof-mounted whirring coffee can sensors and research vehicle stickers.
So when the car arrives with the pizza, the customer will have to meet it in the street. Once they tap the last four digits of their phone number into a tablet mounted on the exterior, the back window will roll down, allowing access to their stuffed crust meat feast.
It is undoubtedly a clever marketing stunt for both the companies involved. More importantly, it is also a chance to gather first-hand knowledge about how humans will interact with driverless cars. The promise of a self-driving car technology is huge—fewer crashes, less congestion, and more convenience. So it is important that car-makers get to know if people actually want to have such a car in their lives.
Customers who participate in the trial run can track their order through a Domino’s app, which will receive a unique code that matches the last four digits of their phone number. It has to be used to unlock the Heatwave Compartment—a container that keeps pizzas warm in the back of the car. Customers will get all the information through screens and speakers on the exterior of the cars. For now, each car will be driven by a Ford safety engineer, with other researchers onboard so that they are able to zero in on the last 50 feet of the customer experience.
Ford has promised fully autonomous robocars by 2021. These experiments are a way to learn how autonomous robocars will function. There are many factors that its engineers would not have considered like whether people are prepared to walk to the curb for pizza? Or will they try to leave a tip in the robocar? Will they rest pizza boxes on the car’s roof and block its sensors? How would they react if their code to open the window doesn’t work, or if there’s a problem with their order? Ford will then modify its vehicles, software, and operations before bringing its promised driverless car to the market.
Domino’s and Ford have worked together on a number of projects in the past, including in building a way to order pizzas via Ford’s in-car SYNC software and apps platform. Their pre-existing relationship led to conversations around the potential for this type of food delivery.
Technology is helping out with easing our lives in myriad ways. And delivery options are being redefined. Domino’s is also delivering pies with sidewalk drones in Hamburg, Germany. San Francisco and London are grappling with regulations for those rolling robots, designed to wander sidewalks with takeout or cold beers on board. Amazon, UPS and 7-Eleven are all testing drone deliveries for everything from groceries to slurpees.
Ford’s not the only player investigating this question. Uber and Google spinoff Waymo are offering people rides in their autonomous cars in Pittsburgh and Phoenix, respectively, to see how they use the vehicles. Virginia Tech Transportation Institution created an unintentional Internet sensation when it sent a van on to the streets with a driver disguised as a seat, an effort to see how the public reacts to a car with no one inside.
The real test in this project isn’t for the drivers, or even the self-driving aspects of the autonomous cars used. It’s all about the end user, and what they think of taking delivery of their piping hot pizza pies from something other than another person.