Dumb Ideas: Domino's and Ford to Test 'Autonomous Pizza Delivery'

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
dumb ideas domino s and ford to test 8216 autonomous pizza delivery

Ford and Domino’s Pizza are joining forces to test self-driving pizza delivery vehicles in Michigan. The venture is an attempt to better understand how customers respond to and interact with autonomous vehicles and assess the future relevancy of the technology. But the cars in question aren’t actually self-driving, they’re simulated autonomous vehicles doing market research.

Essentially, Domino’s customers in Ann Arbor, Michigan will have the option to accept pizza deliveries from a standard Ford Fusion Hybrid with loads of visual accoutrements to denote a cutting-edge test vehicle and a human operator obscured by a partition and some tinted glass. The customer is the test platform, not the car.

While it’s understandable that removing the driver from the equation might someday save pizza chains tons of dough, there are a few things neither Ford, nor Domino’s, seem to have considered.

First of all, nobody wants to walk out into the pouring rain or bitter cold to retrieve a thin cardboard box that protects the food they’ve been waiting an hour for. Secondly, pizza delivery is one of the most lucrative careers available to young people. I did it for years (also in Michigan) and, while not particularly glamorous work, I was compensated far better than my teenaged peers.

However, I also know that it’s in fashion to say youngsters shouldn’t be making decent wages and entry-level jobs aren’t supposed to pay enough for a person to live upon — bootstraps and all that. Maybe this isn’t a profession that needs to persist after all. Domino’s is likely testing customer reactions to the “technology” in the hope that it won’t have to pay for drivers in the future. Although a fleet of autonomous cars probably isn’t cheap.

Framing this entirely as a service, problems still abound. The event requires customers to walk up to the car and input a four-digit code on a keypad mounted on the car. That will open the rear window and let customers retrieve their order from a heated compartment. The compartment can carry a maximum of four pizzas and five sides, according to Domino’s.

What it doesn’t do is deliver you drugs, which is a time-honored tradition among small-town delivery drivers. Throughout my tenure in the pizza industry, I noticed we always had at least two marijuana distributors on hand before they were fired for the side business and eventually replaced by someone else who, coincidentally, also happened to sell pot.

That’s illegal, and I certainly can’t endorse such an activity. But it’s also a societal praxis dating back decades that we might lose if pizza delivery goes autonomous.

On a similar note, imagine the sort of terror that might befall especially stoned individuals who are forced out of their homes to interact with a technology they might consider to be an alien life form. Those poor individuals only wanted to procure some munchables and enjoy cartoons while contentedly stupefied, but now they’re being confronted with a vehicle they could deem haunted.

It’s a delivery driver’s duty to not only ensure safe passage for the food but also place the customer at ease. Patrons may be shut-ins, blackout drunk, enfeebled by age, exceptionally lonely, heroically lazy, or so preoccupied with a child’s birthday party that they don’t have time to leave the house to futz around with a keypad before carting multiple containers of food inside.

Ford and Domino’s market research may uncover some of those bitter truths too — even with someone hiding in the driver’s seat.

Sherif Marakby, Vice President of Ford Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, described the project as ethnographic research in an interview with The Verge.

“We don’t want to wait until we get everything done on the tech and remove the driver. We’re trying to start doing the research. We still are working on the technology, because it’s not ready to be put on public streets,” he said. “It’s simulating that the vehicle is in autonomous mode.”

“The key thing is that our development is going to benefit from these partnerships,” Marakby continued. “We will incorporate changes when we launch at scale in 2021, whether it’s perishable or non-perishable deliveries.”

Automation is fine when it ushers in a marked improvement of a present-day endeavor. But the main gripe with delicious pizza is that it never seems to arrive on our doorsteps quickly enough. There isn’t much of an issue with how it actually gets there.

[Images: Ford Motor Company]

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3 of 86 comments
  • Thelaine Thelaine on Aug 30, 2017

    A teenaged boy, sitting alone in a darkened compartment with nothing to do. How ever will he occupy his time?

    • FreedMike FreedMike on Aug 30, 2017

      Deciding how to make good life choices. Oh, and pornhub.

  • FreedMike FreedMike on Aug 30, 2017

    Far as I'm concerned, we need MORE economic opportunity for kids, not less. Both of my kids work - my youngest doing wage-slave retail work - and it's nothing but good for them. BTW, Panera now delivers in my neighborhood...good news for my waistline, bad news for my wallet.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?