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

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
dumb ideas domino s and ford to test 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.

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.