Domino’s Takes High-Tech Pizza De­liv­ery To Level 4 With Ford

ForbesWeekly - - FRONT PAGE - BY SAM ABUELSAMID, FORBES CON­TRIB­U­TOR

Pizza. Tech­nol­ogy.

If you think of those two words to­gether, it’s prob­a­bly be­cause you’re think­ing of pro­gram­mers work­ing in a dark lab, late at night with a cold pie and a Red Bull at their side. At Domino’s Farms on the north­east side of Ann Ar­bor, Michi­gan, there is also a tech­nol­ogy team that does more than just clean viruses from em­ployee com­put­ers and re­place bro­ken mice. In re­cent years, the pizza business has in­creas­ingly been trans­formed into an e-com­merce pow­er­house and Domino’s has been us­ing tech­nol­ogy to up­grade the home de­liv­ery ex­pe­ri­ence the com­pany pi­o­neered in 1960. The lat­est Domino’s ex­per­i­ment in­cludes some help from Ford’s au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles group.

This fall, a Domino’s store in the com­pany’s home­town will start dis­patch­ing a Ford Fu­sion bristling with sen­sors to de­liver piz­zas to cus­tomers in its cov­er­age area. The car is part of Ford’s au­to­mated driv­ing de­vel­op­ment fleet with some ad­di­tional mod­i­fi­ca­tions. Domino’s worked with Roush En­gi­neer­ing to add one of its Heatwave ther­mal com­part­ments to the Fu­sion along with a tablet in­ter­face on the out­side to give cus­tomers ac­cess to their or­der.

Domino’s founder Tom Mon­aghan be­gan de­liv­er­ing piz­zas in a Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle back in 1960 and for many years the com­pany promised to de­liver or­ders in 30 min­utes or the or­der would be free. The time guar­an­tee has long since been elim­i­nated af­ter a rash of crashes in­volv­ing de­liv­ery driv­ers trying to get in un­der the limit. Ide­ally that will no longer be an is­sue with au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy. In 2015, Domino’s also in­tro­duced the DXP, a cus­tom­ized Chevro­let Spark equipped with the in­su­lated Heatwave box in­stalled where the left rear win­dow nor­mally goes.

For the next six weeks, se­lected cus­tomers or­der­ing from the north­east Ann Ar­bor store will be asked if they would like to opt-in to the new ex­per­i­ment. Those that agree will have their or­ders de­liv­ered in the Fu­sion. Domino’s al­ready has a tracker sys­tem that en­ables cus­tomers to see the sta­tus of their or­der such as when it’s be­ing as­sem­bled, baked and in de­liv­ery. In some mar­kets, there is even

GPS track­ing so they can see ex­actly where the driver is on an on­line map.

Cus­tomers in the test pro­gram will get three text mes­sages, one when the or­der is be­ing pre­pared, an­other when the ve­hi­cle leaves the store and a third when it ar­rives at their lo­ca­tion. When the car ar­rives, the cus­tomer taps in a pin num­ber on the tablet mounted out­side of the car which will trig­ger the right rear win­dow to lower giv­ing them ac­cess to their or­der.

While the car is ca­pa­ble of fully au­to­mated op­er­a­tion, for this test, a Ford en­gi­neer will ac­tu­ally be do­ing the driv­ing. The new au­to­mated driv­ing reg­u­la­tions passed in Michi­gan in late 2016 al­low for driver­less test­ing on Michi­gan roads, but not yet com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions. Since pay­ing cus­tomers are get­ting piz­zas from this car, it doesn’t qual­ify. A data re­searcher will also be rid­ing shot­gun, record­ing how cus­tomers in­ter­act with the car.

“We are record­ing data from the sen­sors on the car in­clud­ing the li­dar and cam­eras,” said Sherif Marakby, Ford vice president of au­ton­o­mous and elec­tric ve­hi­cles. “The goal is to un­der­stand how peo­ple with in­ter­act with and re­spond to au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles.”

A cam­era inside the Heatwave box will con­firm if ev­ery­thing has been re­moved while the ex­ter­nal sen­sors will de­ter­mine if the cus­tomer is still ad­ja­cent to the car. If the cus­tomer lingers or has other prob­lems, speak­ers on the tablet will pro­vide au­di­ble prompts and warn­ings that the car may be about to move.

The car has al­ready gone through fully au­to­mated test­ing at the nearby MCity track on the Univer­sity of Michi­gan re­search cam­pus. For the pub­lic test, the win­dows have been heav­ily tinted so that cus­tomers don’t see the driver and re­searcher. The goal is to em­u­late a fully au­to­mated ex­pe­ri­ence so there won’t be any im­me­di­ate in­ter­ac­tion with the cus­tomer. Af­ter­wards, the cus­tomers that par­tic­i­pate will be asked to par­tic­i­pate in a sur­vey about their ex­pe­ri­ence.

Over the course of the test, Domi­nos and Ford will eval­u­ate a va­ri­ety of sce­nar­ios in­clud­ing de­liv­er­ies to sin­gle fam­ily homes, apart­ments and busi­nesses. Early de­liv­er­ies will be in good weather, but the com­pa­nies also want to see how cus­tomers deal with hav­ing to come out to the car in in­clement weather rather than just hav­ing the pizza brought to their door. Since HD maps of all of Ann Ar­bor haven’t yet been cre­ated, some of the data col­lected from the Fu­sion will be fed into that ef­fort as well sim­u­la­tion mod­els.

The Fu­sion be­ing used for this test is one of Ford’s first-gen­er­a­tion cars with four ro­tat­ing li­dar sen­sors across the mid­dle of the roof, with one in close prox­im­ity to where cus­tomers will re­trieve their piz­zas. Cus­tomers will see warn­ings on the car not to touch the sen­sors but how cus­tomers move around the car will help in­form Ford en­gi­neers about some of the de­sign is­sues they will have to ad­dress as their planned 2021 level 4 au­to­mated ve­hi­cle ap­proaches pro­duc­tion.

When Ford an­nounced its pro­duc­tion plans for an au­to­mated ve­hi­cle a year ago, chair­man Bill Ford stated it was be­ing de­signed for ride-hail­ing ap­pli­ca­tions. How­ever, in or­der to get the max­i­mum eco­nomic ben­e­fit from the tech­nol­ogy, it needs to be used for as many tasks as pos­si­ble. Projects like de­liv­er­ing piz­zas and the fleet of a plugin hy­brid Tran­sit vans that are be­ing tested in Lon­don will help the com­pany de­ter­mine how and where to de­ploy au­to­mated driv­ing.

The one thing we know for sure at this time is that the au­to­mated Fords that de­liver you to your ap­point­ments and de­liver your din­ner be­yond 2021 won’t ac­tu­ally look any­thing like to­day’s Fu­sions.

If you live in Ann Ar­bor and your pizza ar­rives in a sen­sor en­crusted Ford in the next cou­ple of months, let us know about your ex­pe­ri­ence.

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