By on August 29, 2017

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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.

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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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86 Comments on “Dumb Ideas: Domino’s and Ford to Test ‘Autonomous Pizza Delivery’...”


  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    “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 then my teenaged peers.”

    Why is this something that Ford and Domino’s would care about?

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Chimney sweeping was lucrative for young kids too.

      Destroy the sewing looms!

      • 0 avatar
        Prove Your Humanity 2+9=?

        Newspaper delivery was, too… but define “lucrative”.
        When I was a kid, we made about a dollar a day (about 1 1/2 hours on average) as long as all the subscribers actually paid.

        • 0 avatar
          ash78

          When I was slaving for $4.25/hr in the 90s, my pizza delivery buddy could clear $30 in a good hour. And he only reported about $10 for taxes. He did it all through high school and well into college.

          And he was only robbed with a gun to his head twice! /s

          • 0 avatar
            Guitar man

            …and made nothing many other hours, including all the unpaid work cleaning up at the end of the shift, meanwhile running their car into the ground and collecting motoring fines to get it in “30 minutes or its free”.

            In what magical universe does the author live in when he describes pizza delivery as lucrative ?

    • 0 avatar
      Ben

      What both Ford and Domino’s care about is having the market perceive (value) them as Technology stocks.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “First of all, nobody wants to walk out into the pouring rain to retrieve a thin cardboard box that protects the food they’ve been waiting an hour for.”

    because it rains all day everywhere.

    “Secondly, pizza delivery is one of the most lucrative careers available to young people.”

    is that any of the pizza chains’s concern? cashiering/bagging groceries used to be a “career” for young people, yet U-Scans are rapidly growing.

    “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.”

    again, are the companies involved supposed to care?

    “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.”

    your mistake is thinking this test exercise is about making a “pizza delivery vehicle.” It’s not, it’s about furthering development of autonomous tech.

    • 0 avatar
      iMatt

      Companies aren’t supposed to care. But we should, collectively. Not about the individual pizza guy, but moreso of the millions of people that will no longer have jobs once autonomous vehicles become mainstream.

      Same with 50% of all other jobs out there by some reports. Either TTAC readers are all coincidentally employed in irreplaceable sectors or there are going to be a lot of nasty surprises down the road.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      “this test exercise is about making a “pizza delivery vehicle.” It’s not, it’s about furthering development of autonomous tech.”

      The whole concept sounds pretty cheesy to me. :)

    • 0 avatar

      U-Scans need “attendants” to watch for theft. Place a item of produce on the scale, punch in the code for a lower priced item of produce, steal from the grocery store. Only pull one of the 3 identical items across the scanner thus stealing the other 2. It’s an old saw, but theft increases the cost for everyone.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    That’s easy. You don’t have to replace all delivery drivers, just 50% or so with no tip as the option and 50% of the customers will pick that when they are not stoned, drunk, or nude.

    Self checkout didn’t replace all cashiers.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    I suppose it provides an excuse not to tip.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    Are we on the honor system once we’ve entered the code? It doesn’t sound like the last customer on the run is going to get any food.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      The pizzas? I’d worry about the car. Just imagine when someone orders a pizza on a stolen credit card number, just to get the car to come to them, so they can strip, steal, vandalize, or destroy it.

      • 0 avatar
        Prove Your Humanity 2+9=?

        What happens when the car gets a flat tire or breaks down without a human tending to it?

      • 0 avatar
        MrIcky

        I’d be far less worried about the car then the young person working for me. No worker’s comp worries, no kid in a strange car insurance limbo that you have to deal with, probably drives better, probably cleaner, and google ‘pizza driver assaulted’.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        With no delivery person I’d be worried about some lunatic tampering with the food…..chemicals or…um…biological substances. This sounds too risky to me. BTW, delivering food in certain urban areas is so difficult that many food vendors refuse delivery service to those places. If it’s impossible to do with a human being, what do you think will happen if you sent a robot car?

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      There’s a dude driving the car. He probably has to load the dispenser box before stopping at each customer’s address.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Maybe the car can detect if they’re taking more than their order, and deploy pepper spray. Hilarity ensues!

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      If they can figure out how to make a car that drives itself to the delivery destination, I’m reasonably sure they can develop a solution to ensure that each customer gets their individual order.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Ford? What happened to the Domino’s DXP (Chevy Spark)?

    http://www.dominosdxp.com/

    But then I guess a Spark is too small, so all that kludgy crap won’t fit on the roof.

    • 0 avatar

      I reviewed the Domino’s DXP for TTAC. They’re still in use but there are only 150 of them. It’s based on the ’15 Spark and GM changed the sheet metal for ’16 so they’d have to redesign the custom stuff if they want to expsnd the DXP program.

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2017/02/capsule-review-dominos-dxp-bespoke-pizza-delivery-vehicle/

  • avatar
    ash78

    I want to say something snarky, but when Redbox first came out (amid the early days of streaming), I made fun of it constantly, even as people lined up 10 deep to rent a physical disc that they had to return. It seemed so Blockbustery. But then 3+ other companies tried to copy them, so I guess it worked.

    Sometimes people do a thing not because it’s logical, but because it’s a novelty.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I remember those. A flash in the pan, but for a moment they were popular. Blockbuster without the bullsh1t. I also remember when Netflix mailed DVDs to users.

      • 0 avatar
        ash78

        Redbox is still hopping, at least from the 4-5 I’ve seen around. I guess there are enough people who want new releases with better video quality than streaming, for a little cheaper, and don’t mind driving around.

        If I want that, I’ll just go to my library — free, thousands of titles, plus several hundred Blu-Ray.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          All the Red Boxes near me have disappeared. Hard to beat 8 bucks a month for something like Netlfix where the internet data costs more than access to the titles.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Am I using Netflix wrong? It seems like all they’ve got to offer are a few TV series. The movies are a pretty bad joke, but maybe that’s on Hollyweird.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            Redbox is just a bit behind the retail release of a movie. Netflix is behind substantially more. The time it takes them to release something now is pretty long. They seem to be favoring their originals more now.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            Netflix has a lot of movies but maybe not always what you’re looking for. There are lots of other streaming services that might offer a different or more tailored selection for around the same price though.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    What if you live up on the 70th floor of a high rise condo? Stupid idea if I ever read of one, but I suppose they gotta come up with dumbass ideas to use with these self driving cars.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Easy. A drone deploys from the trunk and flies it up to you.

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        I was thinking that pizza would get to the 70th floor the same way everything else gets to the 70th floor– in the hands of people that don’t live on the 70th floor.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      I’m comfortable speculating that people who live on the 70th floor of high rise condos don’t order many delivery pizzas from Dominos.

      Even if they did the building probably doesn’t allow random delivery guys to roam the 70th floor, and likely employs a person to cart things up to Elysium as required.

      • 0 avatar
        BobinPgh

        If you live in a high rise condo, you likely have a convection oven, a KitchenAid mixer with attachments, someone to go grocery shopping for you and you can invite your neighbors for a pizza party that is a lot tastier than delivery pizza.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          Convection ovens are awesome for pizza, provided you want your cheese brown and crispy while your crust comes out soft and gooey. Invite the neighbors? They’re only in the country four times a year.

    • 0 avatar
      MrIcky

      That’s why you keep the doorman in Christmas presents. Must be a rookie at this rich person high rise stuff.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      As people are saying, if you can afford to live on the 70th floor of a high rise, you probably can afford to pay someone to go get a pizza from a good pizza restaurant and bring it to you!

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      Those people usually walk down stair and eat at 1 out of 30 4.7 stars Yelp rated exotic places. To them pizza is overtime at work food, not what you want to eat all the time.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    Any discussion of autonomous cars sure bring out the “what if” enthusiasts.

    If you guys were around when the first conventional cars were introduced I”m sure you would have also had all sorts of very specific and equally irrelevant “what if” scenarios to prove that they could never replace horses.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I’m 100% certain that I would not have given up my horse until I was absolutely forced to and I’m 100% certain that I won’t give up my nonAV vehicle until absolutely forced to.

    • 0 avatar
      MrIcky

      @bikegoesbaa, this is true. I remember people scoffing at the amazon business model.

      Lets face it, there is a huge percentage of America who’d prefer not to interact with living people. Anything that helps people avoid dealing with other people will probably succeed in larger markets.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Biggest problem seems to be that dominos would have to invest in a fleet of cars, instead of essentially using their drivers cars for “free”.

    And porn writers would have to come up with a new plot.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I’m more creeped out by the prospect of a weirdo behind the curtain in the car.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    And this is what a 15 dollar an hour pizza delivery person looks like.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Pizza delivery drivers typically make just above minimum wage plus a small “bonus” to cover wear and tear on their vehicle. It varies but can be anything from an extra dollar an hour to a dollar-fifty per delivery. The majority of the money they earn is in tips.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        That’s the point. If pizza delivery drivers need to be paid $15 an hour, machines will deliver pizzas. You’re crying about an assault on the good money you earned by delivering pizzas while regurgitating the destructive Marxist living wage pablum that will take away opportunities for entry level job seekers to find openings where they can make decent money through hard work. Your economic ignorance has been weaponized.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          Do you even think about half of the shit you write before you tap “submit comment?” On one hand you say “these are the jobs we’ll automate away” and immediately you go into fucking Rand-fapping screeds about Marxism.

          If you automate away all of these jobs (which you seem to be ok with) then what about the people left looking for work? Hissing “go get a job!” at them is useless when the jobs are gone.

        • 0 avatar
          nrcote

          You never fail to disappoint.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      I knew somebody wouldn’t let me down. Never mind Hardees is trying its damnedest to install order kiosks everywhere it can due to a modest 4% increase in worker compensation.

      Even if the capitalist dream of eliminating the minimum wage altogether and importing enough people willing to earn a nickel an hour in the rapid cuisine industry were to happen automation would still take over.

      The upfront cost might be high but down the road its going to save the company way more money even at a lousy 7.25 an hour. Same with autonomous delivery systems.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    Will an automate automobile know how to park illegally when there are no legal spots?

  • avatar
    jeoff

    Will an automated automobile know how to park illegally when there are no legal spots?

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Wouldn’t it be much easier to automate the pizza _MAKING_ portion of their business? Maybe there is more savings to finally be had in automated delivery, but automated making of pizza would be low hanging fruit by comparison–the human delivery people could also double-check the creating process.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Already here:

      https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/28/15882852/zume-pizza-doughboy-robot-automation-future-food-delivery

      More people out of work, just waiting for people like ToddAynRand and Ronnie to hiss at to “go get a job” which no longer exists.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        You got it wrong JimZ! It isn’t “go get a job” – automation has freed them from the drudgery of a low skill low wage job so that their lives may be enriched by going for whatever flavor of the month degree is offered by a slew of for profit colleges.

        • 0 avatar

          As opposed to taking on huge student debt to get some useless ideological degree in “XYZ Studies” at a typical “non-profit” university, where most of the financial bloat has gone towards admininstrators like assistant provosts for this or that politically correct nonsense.

          At least the for-profit colleges aren’t letting incipient totalitarians violate the free speech and free assembly rights of students and speakers on their campuses.

          Oh, and internal polling by the Democrats must have shown that a vast majority of Americans are getting sick and tired of Antifa thugs, else Nancy Pelosi would not have spoken out against them. Wait, if she says there are two sides to the violence does that make her a Nazi sympathizer too?

          • 0 avatar
            WheelMcCoy

            There are bad universities and there are good universities. The good ones expose a student to various disciplines with a side goal of learning to learn, whatever the subject may be. Some encourage sports. Some encourage community service. Some focus on science and engineering. I don’t think any discourage the entrepreneurial spirit.

            And because students are young, they will question authority — a good thing. But what university elders failed to teach them was not to feed the trolls. That is, let controversial speakers speak, and answer them with more speech.

            Give them time; they’ll figure it out.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, I’m more likely to encourage someone to start their own business and create their own job.

        If you can’t find a job, get a $99 lawn mower and start cutting grass.

        My grandfather supported a wife, five daughters, and two nephews dealing in scrap paper and rags, during the Great Depression. If he could make a living dealing in things people throw away, I think most people should be able to leverage turning what skills they have into some cash.

        A friend who is a Unigraphics expert and I are testing the waters with a small business called Blue Collar Prototyping that has the slogan “Because everyone has an idea”. He’ll do the design work and I’ll 3D print the prototype. We’ve had a few inquiries already.

        I’ve never been fond of “to get a good job get a good education.” It implies that the only way you can support yourself is to work for someone else and it also overstates the value of college. Mostly it bothers me because it enforces uniformity and diminishes the value of entrepreneurship.

  • avatar
    brn

    Dumb Ideas: This article.

    Sorry Matt, but delivery, pizza or otherwise, is an excellent means to test autonomous vehicles. I won’t go into details, as others have covered it so well.

  • avatar
    slap

    Last time I got pizza, the place had a “Drivers Wanted” sign on the door. This may not replace all of the drivers, but it could replace some of them.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Little Caesar’s , Domino’s and Hungry Howie’s pizza are three of the most unfortunate things that were born in Michigan and foisted upon other parts of the country (at least Cottage Inn and Jet’s have some respectability, however slight).

    I honestly don’t understand how people can eat such trash (there are many frozen pizzas now that are waaaay better than either Domino’s or Little Sleazer’s, even).

    Also, WTF is up with Papa John’s? That’s some Grade A TRASH right there, too, and the mind boggles at it’s apparent popularity (if they spent 1/4th the money improving their ingredients, recipe and baking method as they do on advertising and celebrity endorsements, maybe they’d be able to whip up a decent pizza).

  • avatar
    JDG1980

    So will the delivery drivers in these fake “driverless” cars be paid extra by Domino’s to make up for the tips they won’t be getting?

  • avatar
    John

    Three stages of reaction to new ideas:
    1. It’s impossible
    2. It’s ridiculous/will never work
    3. I knew it was a good idea all along

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hall

      You forgot 2.5) Solve the problems that people pointed out in step 1. Here, it’s the “last mile”. Right now, the driver brings the pizza to my door. If I have to go outside and get it from the vehicle, at least sometimes I’ll choose another delivery option. If I live on the 5th floor, I’ll choose something else a lot of the time. Some criminals will order pizza and steal the car. A lot of drunks and stoners will order and steal other people’s orders. Some of these things are more easily solved than others, but there is plenty of development left to do.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    The guy sitting in the delivery car’s isolation chamber is gonna have a lot of time to consider the choices he has made.

  • avatar
    thelaine

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

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    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.


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