Pizza delivery drivers in the U.S. could be out of a job in the next few years.
Ford Motor Co. and Domino's Pizza are collaborating on research into self-driving pizza delivery vehicles, and will soon drop off deliveries with an autonomous Ford Fusion hybrid in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The two companies said Tuesday they established the partnership to study customer reaction to receiving pizzas by a self-driven vehicle.
"As we increase our understanding of the business opportunity for self-driving vehicles to support the movement of people and goods, we're pleased to have Domino's join us in this important part of the development process," Sherif Marakby, Ford vice president, autonomous and electric vehicles, said in a statement. "As a company focused on the customer experience, Domino's shares our vision for a future enabled by smart vehicles in a smart environment that enhance people's lives."
As part of the research, random Domino's customers in Ann Arbor can choose to receive their pizza in a self-driving car -- sort of. The Fusion hybrid is equipped with self-driving technology, but will be manually driven by a Ford safety engineer, the automaker said.
Customers will be able to track their orders through GPS, and will receive a text message when the vehicle approaches that shows them how to unlock and retrieve their pizza from a storage compartment in what would normally be the rear side window of the four-door sedan, all without interacting with an actual human.
Roush Enterprises created the pizza storage compartment based on research it did with Domino's for its modified Chevrolet Spark DXP delivery vehicle in 2015.
"We're interested to learn what people think about this type of delivery," Russell Weiner, president of Domino's USA, said in a statement. "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 make sure the interface is clear and simple. 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."
Ford and Domino's privately tested the self-driving pizza delivery vehicle at MCity, a 32-acre autonomous car test site in Ann Arbor.
Ford has vowed to introduce a Level 4 autonomous vehicle in 2021 for commercial use. Marakby said in a blog post last week that those uses could include delivery of goods in addition to services like ride-sharing and ride-hailing.
"One thing is certain. Self-driving technology will change the way business is done," he said in the post. "To help us build a viable business, we intend to work with multiple partners in the coming months to understand what self-driving technology can enable when applied with a human-centered approach. Working together, we'll build a sustainable self-driving business that prioritizes the people experience over the technology experience."