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