The arrival of mobile ordering might've been the best moment in pizza history, other than the time someone first dropped meat discs on top of shredded cheese. It eliminated the need to call in and to have to pretend to be embarrassed that you're ordering breakfast cheesy bread, again. Now, Domino's and Ford are trying to further automate—and further anonymize—the pizza delivery process by testing a self-driving car that would transport those Shame Sticks without any human involvement. Well, sort of.
A tricked-out Ford Fusion Hybrid is currently escorting itself around Ann Arbor, Michigan, making Domino's deliveries during a test period that is less about the car itself and more about how humans will interact with it. When the delivery arrives, the customer will have to go outside to meet the car and type a personalized code on an exterior touchpad that is mounted on the car's rear passenger window. After the customer has successfully pressed those numbers, the back window will open and the pizza can then be retrieved from the car's always-warm Heatwave compartment.
"We don't want to wait until we have autonomous vehicle technology all ready to launch to start understanding these businesses, so we're doing things in parallel," Sherif Marakby, Ford's head of autonomous and electric vehicles, told WIRED.
"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?"
This sounds gloriously space-age, as long as you don't look through the car's tinted front windows. A human driver will be trying his or her best to blend into the upholstery and sustain the illusion that yes, this car is a technological wizard that practically beamed itself into a visitor parking space. But, because autonomous vehicles aren't perfect, the driver will basically ensure that the car will behave properly, arrive at the right address and won't put itself in gear before the customer is safely out of the way. It also may keep this experiment focused on what Ford really wants to study, which is how people will react to cars that even present themselves as being self-driving.
"We're interested to learn what people think about this type of delivery," Domino's president Russell Weiner said. "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 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."
All of these customer-car interactions will be used to further refine the vehicle, its design, and its software before Ford releases its steering wheel-and-pedal-free fully autonomous car in 2021.
This isn't Domino's first experiment with automated delivery: in March, it made some test-deliveries with Starship, a six-wheeled robot, in Germany and the Netherlands. It has also given DRU, a different pizza-carrying robot, a spin through some Australian neighborhoods and has even tried test-flights with a pizza drone in New Zealand.
Look, we don't care how the cheesy bread gets here, as long as it gets here.