Starting September, randomly selected Michigan Domino's customers will be able to opt in to a trial run of self driving pizza delivery cars.
This September, hungry Domino's customers in Michigan may notice something different about the person delivering their pie: there isn't one. That's because the forward-thinking chain is offering randomly selected patrons in Ann Arbor the chance to take part in its first ever American trial run of self-driving pizza delivery cars.
Fully automated vehicle (AV) technology isn't quite ready to take over the streets, but Domino's and Ford are preparing for a future they say is just a few years away by studying the human side of driverless pizza delivery. Each Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Car will carry a safety engineer (who can take the wheel just in case), and researchers tasked with observing how recipients react to the cutting edge drop off method.
To get their food, each customer will receive a delivery code matching the last four digits of their phone number, which will unlock a temperature-preserving "Heatwave Compartment" inside the car. The key departure from tradition is that rather than Domino's coming straight to their door, customers will have to meet the vehicle curbside, which both companies are eager to make as comfortable an adjustment as possible.
"The majority of our questions are about the last 50 feet of the delivery experience," said Domino's USA President Russell Weiner, according to The Verge, and emphasized the importance of understanding how people will or won't interact with the car. The studies will focus on how far people are willing to go to meet the car, how they approach it, and how they interact with the external screen used to unlock their object of edible desire.
In such a new field, Domino's is a relative veteran. In 2016, it tested prototypes of the first ever autonomous delivery vehicle in Brisbane, Australia. Back then, Domino's CEO and Managing Director Don Meij, who began as a delivery driver himself, said he didn't expect the technology would take jobs from any human drivers. Then again, it was only a year later he admitted over 2,400 Domino's employees had been underpaid. Whether the sci-fi-esque food future the company is building now will leave a similar bitter aftertaste, only time will tell.