Domino’s will start de­liv­er­ing piz­zas with a self-driv­ing ro­bot this fall

Woonsocket Call - - FRONT PAGE - PETER HOL­LEY

For months now, the robotics com­pany Nuro has been us­ing elec­tric, self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles to de­liver gro­ceries to Kroger cus­tomers in Phoenix and Hous­ton.

Now the Sil­i­con Val­ley start-up’s au­ton­o­mous, un­manned ve­hi­cles - which re­sem­ble a gi­ant pill bug on wheels and can reach 25 mph as they op­er­ate on ma­jor road­ways along­side cars - have an­nounced plans for a new mis­sion: de­liv­er­ing Domino’s piz­zas to cus­tomers.

Nuro’s lat­est chal­lenge will be lim­ited to cus­tomers who place on­line or­ders in Hous­ton, a sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis criss­crossed by traf­fic-clogged highways. The com­pany de­ployed its gro­cery de­liv­ery ser­vice in Hous­ton in March. Nuro’s part­ner­ship with Domino’s ini­tially will be lim­ited to a sin­gle lo­ca­tion and will be­gin in the fall.

With a nar­row frame about half the width and half the weight of a typ­i­cal car, Nuro’s ve­hi­cles lack seats, steer­ing wheels or room for hu­man oc­cu­pants. The com­pany claims the nar­row frame gives the ve­hi­cle more space to nav­i­gate around ob­struc­tions and a few more feet of safety buf­fer to avoid a col­li­sion if some­one pulls out of a drive­way sud­denly or steps out from be­tween parked cars.

“We are al­ways look­ing for new ways to in­no­vate and evolve the de­liv­ery ex­pe­ri­ence for our cus­tomers,” Kevin Vas­coni, Domino’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer, said in a state­ment re­leased by the com­pany. “Nuro’s ve­hi­cles are spe­cially de­signed to op­ti­mize the food de­liv­ery ex­pe­ri­ence, which makes them a valu­able part­ner in our au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle jour­ney.”

“The op­por­tu­nity to bring our cus­tomers the choice of an un­manned de­liv­ery ex­pe­ri­ence, and our op­er­a­tors an ad­di­tional de­liv­ery so­lu­tion dur­ing a busy store rush, is an im­por­tant part of our au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle test­ing,” the state­ment added.

The hu­man de­liv­ery driver may soon be­come a relic of the past as tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies rush to au­to­mate food-de­liv­ery, which re­mains a mod­ern-day gold mine of sorts.

On col­lege cam­puses around the coun­try, food de­liv­er­ies via ro­bot are be­com­ing an

in­creas­ingly com­mon sight. Af­ter a fleet of 25 de­liv­ery ro­bots from the Bay Area start-up Star­ship Technologi­es de­scended on Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity’s cam­pus in Jan­uary, cam­pus of­fi­cials recorded a spike in break­fast or­ders.

Dur­ing the first day of de­liv­er­ies at GMU, the ma­chines were flooded by so many din­ner or­ders that school of­fi­cials had to pull the plug, shut­ting off or­ders so that ro­bots weren’t op­er­at­ing late into the night, far be­hind sched­ule.

Last week, Uber an­nounced plans to be­gin test­ing the first-ever com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tion of food de­liv­ery by drone in high-den­sity ur­ban ar­eas, join­ing com­pa­nies like Ama­zon and Google that are seeking to make un­manned com­mer­cial de­liv­er­ies us­ing the same tech­nol­ogy. (Ama­zon chief ex­ec­u­tive Jeff Be­zos owns The Wash­ing­ton Post.)

The com­pany’s new ini­tia­tive - a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort be­tween its Uber Eats and Uber El­e­vate di­vi­sions - be­gan with tests in San Diego us­ing fast food meals from McDon­ald’s, but could expand to in­clude a lo­cal fine-din­ing restau­rant called Ju­niper and Ivy, the com­pany said. Uber in­tends to roll out com­mer­cial food de­liv­ery us­ing drones in the same city this sum­mer, with a fee struc­ture that mim­ics Uber Eats’ cur­rent pric­ing, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg Busi­ness­week, which first re­ported the com­pany’s plan.

The news out­let re­ports that Uber Eats re­ported rev­enue of $1.5 bil­lion in 2018, nearly 150 per­cent higher than the pre­vi­ous year.

Founded by two alumni from Google’s self-driv­ing car project, Nuro says its goal is to “trans­form lo­cal com­merce.” Af­ter re­ceiv­ing a $1 bil­lion in­vest­ment from Ja­pan’s SoftBank, Nuro has been ea­ger to expand and has be­gun lay­ing the ground­work for a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent ser­vices, from de­liv­er­ing food cooked in rov­ing, au­to­mated kitchens to de­liv­er­ing pack­ages, ac­cord­ing to TechCrunch.

The com­pany says that as far as its team knows, its un­manned gro­cery ser­vice - which costs $5.95 per dropoff - is the first of its kind. Re­gard­less, the au­ton­o­mous de­liv­ery ser­vice will com­pete with a grow­ing num­ber of big-name firms in the gro­cery-de­liv­ery space such as Ama­zon and Wal­mart.

Domino’s – which de­liv­ers 3 mil­lion piz­zas per day glob­ally – has been test­ing au­ton­o­mous de­liv­ery sys­tems for sev­eral years. In Michi­gan, and later in Mi­ami, the pizza gi­ant teamed up with Ford to cre­ate a de­liv­ery ser­vice us­ing au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. The com­pany’s chief ri­val, Pizza Hut, is also test­ing driver­less de­liv­ery with Toy­ota Mo­tor Co.

The San Fran­cisco-based start-up Udelv has be­gun mak­ing gro­cery de­liv­er­ies in the Bay Area and in Ok­la­homa City. Known for its bright or­ange ve­hi­cles, the com­pany an­nounced this week plans to be­gin de­liv­er­ing au­to­mo­bile parts to busi­nesses in Hous­ton.

How will Nuro’s pizza de­liv­ery work?

Once Domino’s cus­tomers in Hous­ton place their or­der, they can track their driver­less ve­hi­cle via the Domino’s app. Once the ve­hi­cle ar­rives at the de­liv­ery lo­ca­tion, cus­tomers will be able to use a PIN code pro­vided by Domino’s to un­lock the ve­hi­cle’s com­part­ment and re­trieve their pizza.

Cour­tesy of Nuro

Domino’s and Nuro are join­ing forces on au­ton­o­mous pizza de­liv­ery us­ing the cus­tom un­manned ve­hi­cle known as the R2.

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