Domino's Pizza and Ford Motor Co. have teamed up to test self-driving vehicles by delivering pizza in Ann Arbor, MI. The two companies also hope to gauge customer reaction to the technology, according to a press release from Ford.
The testing will occur over the next several weeks, with randomly-selected Domino’s customers having the opportunity to receive their delivery orders 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 use an upgraded version of the online "Domino’s Tracker" feature to track the delivery vehicle via GPS. They will also receive text messages as the self-driving vehicle approaches that will guide them on how to retrieve their pizza, using a unique code to unlock a specially-designed Domino’s Heatwave Compartment inside the vehicle.
Domino’s has been aggressive in exploring potential new delivery schemes. Last year in New Zealand, the company delivered its first pizza via drone and its interest in assessing self-driving vehicles can be viewed as another step in its willingness to explore other delivery options, likely with an eye toward saving money on labor and improving efficiency. Though Domino's pizza is a different kind of product than many retailers would look to deliver with a driverless vehicle, its experience testing the technology will be closely watched by retailers.
Ford, meanwhile, is currently scheduled to start producing driverless vehicles in 2021, with many of the initial applications to be commercial ones, such as food and package delivery. The company made those comments a little over a year ago and you could argue that not much has happened since, but a lot has to happen to make autonomous delivery vehicles a common sight on the road.
One of the most important things that needs to happen doesn't have to do with the performance of the technology itself, but rather customer acceptance of it. Any company adopting a new customer-facing technology had better find out first how customers feel about using it. For Ford and Domino's, that means getting some sense of customers' willingness to embrace a new way of receiving packages and other deliveries.
It's the same sort of process that companies eyeing drone delivery packages need to pursue. Do customers want delivery drones landing in their front yards? Do they want driverless vehicles pulling up to their curb, and idling while the customer comes out to retrieve their pizza from the special compartment?
Ford and Domino’s have been working together for a while on this project, completing preliminary testing of the self-driving delivery process at Mcity, a simulated urban environment on the University of Michigan’s campus. Now, it's time to find out what real consumers think.