ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Someday, the Domino’s pizza you order might show up in a car that drives itself.
Domino’s and Ford Motor began testing Tuesday in Ann Arbor, where Domino’s is based, to see whether customers like the idea of driverless-car delivery or stumble over what amounts to a self-serve pickup process once the pizza arrives.
The test involves using a Ford Fusion sedan with markings and gear on the roof to indicate it is self-driving.
Ford said the Fusion hybrid is capable of driving itself but is driven by an engineer for the purposes of the testing. The windows will be tinted to prevent the customer from seeing the driver. The main intent of the project is to test customer reaction and the customers will think the vehicle is driving itself.
The customer will receive a text message when the vehicle arrives and then go out to the car.
The customer will then enter the last four digits of his or her their phone number on a tablet computer mounted on the outside of the vehicle. The correct number causes the window to open and the customer can pull the pizza out of a compartment designed to keep the pizzas warm and prevent them from sliding around.
The nation’s second-largest pizza chain isn’t sure whether its customers will be eager to go outside to pick up their pizza from a driverless car in the rain and snow, but it wants to begin testing the idea now so it can position itself at the forefront of the emerging technology.
“We are delivery experts. This is where the industry is going,” said Russell Weiner, president of Domino’s USA. “We think we are the right company, and we certainly are working with the right partner to make this happen.”
While the idea will require the customer to do a little extra work, people have adapted in the past to self-service gas and self-checkout at grocery stores. Plus, the pizza won’t cost more, and no tip will be required.
Why they are testing it
Domino’s wants to make sure it continues to explore innovative ways to stay ahead of the competition for getting pizzas to the right place as fast as possible. The company began dispatching pizzas to homes in 1960 and delivers more than 1 billion pizzas worldwide every year. “So delivery is very important to us,” Weiner said.
For Ford, partnering with Domino’s provides a way to interact with a sophisticated company in the food-delivery business as it develops self-driving vehicles.
While much of the focus is on self-driving vehicles used by ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, the sale of vehicles capable of delivering packages and goods could be just as lucrative for automakers.
“When you look at moving goods, there are perishable goods, which are difficult to do, like we are experimenting with Domino’s, and then there are non-perishable goods,” said Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous and electric vehicles.
For now, the partnership only involves one vehicle at one Domino’s pizza location in Ann Arbor.
Over the next several weeks, randomly selected Domino’s customers in Ann Arbor will be asked whether they are willing to participate in the research project and receive their delivery from the self-driving Ford Fusion hybrid.
Kevin Vasconi, Domino’s chief innovation officer, said the company expects all kinds of things will go wrong. In fact, he actually hopes some customers have problems or get confused because the purpose of the test is to discover issues that engineers haven’t anticipated.
But engineers at Ford and Roush Performance, which outfitted the Fusion with the additional hardware and electronics necessary to turn it into a delivery vehicle, seem to have thought of almost everything.
If the wrong number is keyed in three times, a prompt will direct the customer to call the store for assistance. If a phone or another object is left in the compartment, as the customer picks up, the pizza’s sensors will detect the object and a voice will remind customers to make sure they have all of their belongings.
A touchscreen interface tablet, which will guide the customer through the whole experience, is attached on the passenger side of a Ford Fusion hybrid autonomous research vehicle.
And if customers linger too long as they check out the vehicle, they will be asked to step away so the car can safely drive away.
Afterwards, customers will be asked to participate in a survey that will ask how they liked the service.