Domino's, Ford hope to learn from mishaps in tests for self-driving cars around Ann Arbor – Detroit Free Press

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Domino’s and Ford want to see if customers like walking out to a driverless delivery vehicle when their pizza arrives.
Detroit Free Press staff


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.

While the vehicle will actually be driven by a Ford engineer and staffed with researchers, the customer will think it is driving itself — unless he or she has seen news media coverage about the project. The windows will be tinted to prevent the customer from seeing the driver.

Marakby said Michigan laws do not allow the delivery vehicle to operate on public streets in a full self-driving mode even though the vehicle is capable of 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 phone number on a tablet 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 pizzas warm and prevent them from sliding around.

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, sensors will detect the object and a voice will remind customers to make sure they have all of their belongings.

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.

Threat to delivery jobs?

What the Domino’s customer thinks about the service is one thing. But what will the thousands of drivers who deliver Domino’s pizza think about the idea of a self-driving delivery vehicle?

Weiner argued that anything that helps Domino’s thrive and stay ahead of the competition will benefit the company and its drivers and won’t be a threat. He also said change is inevitable.

“What our drivers have seen is when we come out with innovations, more people order pizza and when more people order pizza … that increases demand, which will require us to hire more people,” Weiner said. “And frankly, there are some places where maybe your driver will not want to drive.”

While Domino’s has been focused primarily on pizza delivery for more than 50 years, it does not break out the number of drivers who make a living delivering pizza. Hourly pay for Domino’s delivery drivers typically falls between $5 and $9 an hour but some earn up to $15 per hour with tips, according to a job posting.

Domino’s research into the possibility of delivering its products with a driverless vehicle comes as more experts warn that self-driving vehicles could threaten the jobs held by people in a number of transportation sectors. It could take up to 25 years before self-driving vehicles become ubiquitous, but when that happens, U.S. drivers in trucking and transportation industries could see job losses at a rate of 25,000 a month, or 300,000 a year, according to a report from Goldman Sachs Economics Research in May.

Weiner said Domino’s has survived for five decades by being at the forefront of new technology, with innovations ranging from the introduction of its “heat wave bag” in 1998 to the ability to order a pizza by phone and online and to follow an order with its “Domino’s Tracker.”

“That’s where the world is going to be going. And the idea for us is to never be playing catch-up,” Weiner said. “We need to be at the front end.”

More partnerships likely

Ford’s approach to the six-week test project with Domino’s underscores the Dearborn automaker’s view that it will need to work with more partners than ever as it develops and deploys self-driving vehicles.

The modifications made to Fusion by Roush with guidance from Domino’s help to illustrate a concept called “design thinking” that new ford CEO Jim Hackett has been emphasizing since he was appointed in May, Marakby said.

“The new thing we are thinking about — in addition to moving goods and moving people — is the fact that the human interface has got to be right and it has to be a very, very important piece,” Marakby said.

Marakby said partnerships are necessary to help rapidly develop and deploy the technology and to design it in a way that serves the needs of customers across a number of industries that will benefit from self-driving delivery vehicles.

Ford will likely seek out more partners with companies like Domino’s that have customers who order goods online as well as with technology companies and specialized engineering companies such as Roush.

“We can’t do this alone,” Marakby said. “When you think about the market of self-driving vehicles, it’s very different — it’s very different from the way we have been building and marketing our cars and trucks for the past 100 years.”

Contact Brent Snavely: 313-222-6512 or Follow him on Twitter @BrentSnavely.

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One comment

  1. Concerned Reader

    Your story about Domino’s and Ford delivering Pizza in a self-driving car mentions that the Ford engineer will be behind tinted windows, this must be in error; Front tinted windows are illegal in Michigan under MCL Section 257.709

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