Domino’s knows how its customers like their pizza. Pepperoni is the most popular U.S. pizza topping, followed by mushrooms, sausage, ham, and green peppers (source: Domino’s Pizza, Fun Facts). But what the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based chain doesn’t know—although starting this week, it’s aiming to find out—is whether self-driving vehicles can play a role in pizza delivery.
Over the next several weeks, randomly-selected Domino’s customers in Ann Arbor will have the opportunity to receive their delivery order from a Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle, which will have a Ford safety driver at the wheel to take over in case of a malfunction, a Ford engineer occupying the passenger seat to monitor the electronics, and a Domino’s employee in the back to observe the customer.
No, neither a delivery guy nor a robot will be knocking on the door. Customers who agree to participate will be able to track the delivery vehicle through GPS using an upgraded version of Domino’s Tracker App. To get their pizzas, they will receive text messages as the vehicle approaches; a unique code will be provided to unlock the Domino’s “Heatwave Compartment” inside the vehicle. Customers will have to go outside and enter a number on a touchpad. A back window will then lower, revealing the Heatwave Compartment and the pizza. The insulated compartment is large enough to hold five pizzas and four side orders. Information will be communicated through screens and speakers on the exterior of the cars.
“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.”
Domino’s won’t conduct the test on rainy days or football Saturdays (Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan) because too much distraction would slow everything down, according to the company. Ford and Domino's did preliminary testing for the human-free delivery process at Mcity, a simulated city automotive testing environment on the University of Michigan campus. During testing at Mcity the cars were allowed to drive themselves, although humans were still in the driver's seat.
Ford, for its part, sees the test as a step toward developing self-driving vehicles. Sharif Marakby, the company’s vice president of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, said expects to begin producing its fully autonomous cars in 2021.