Convenience-store operators should be interested in the outcome of this test—not necessarily to track the growth of self-driving tech, but to assess consumer interest in autonomous delivery. A full 57% of consumers are not interested in autonomous vehicles, according to a survey by IAB. As such, Domino’s and Ford want to gauge how consumers react to having their pizza brought to them by something other than a human.
“We’re interested to learn what people think about this type of delivery,” said Russell Weiner, president of Domino’s. “The majority of our questions are about the last 50 feet of the delivery experience. For instance, how will customers react to coming outside to get their food? We need to make sure the interface is clear and simple. We need to understand if a customer's experience is different if the car is parked in the driveway vs. next to the curb.
"All of our testing research is focused on our goal to someday make deliveries with self-driving vehicles as seamless and customer-friendly as possible," he said.
Read on for more insights into how the testing will work and what it means for the future of delivery …
Self-driving, but not really
Customers who order delivery from Domino’s in the company’s hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., will have the option to receive their order from a self-driving car—sort of. For now, a Ford safety engineer will be behind the wheel along with researchers. The windows of the vehicle will be blocked when the car arrives at the customer’s home, according to a spokesperson from Domino’s.
This means that the car is not technically self-driving, but since the customer won’t be able to see the driver and passengers inside, it might as well be self-driving as far as the customer is concerned.
Even if the self-driving aspect of the test is mostly a simulation, it will be interesting to see how customers handle the tech associated with the test. Customers who agree to take part in the test will be able to track the vehicle via GPS on an upgraded version of the Domino’s Tracker service.
They will also receive text messages as the vehicle gets closer, instructing them on how to extract their order from the car using a unique code to open the car’s Domino’s Heatwave Compartment, a pizza container based on the one used in Domino’s DXP delivery vehicle, which debuted in 2015.
Means to an end
The companies are each using this test period to reach their own separate goals. Domino’s, already a delivery innovator, wants to stay ahead of the curve on autonomous delivery. Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford, meanwhile, aims to start production of self-driving vehicles in 2021.
"As we increase our understanding of the business opportunity for self-driving vehicles to support the movement of people and goods, we're pleased to have Domino's join us in this important part of the development process," said Sherif Marakby, Ford vice president, autonomous and electric vehicles, in a press release. "As a company focused on the customer experience, Domino's shares our vision for a future enabled by smart vehicles in a smart environment that enhance people's lives."
The future of delivery
It is important to keep in mind that this self-driving delivery test is just that—a test. Ford and Domino’s may find that customers don’t work well with this technology and be forced to go back to the drawing board. Or they may discover that they’ve found the secret tech sauce and move closer to making driverless delivery a reality.
Until this test is complete and its findings are analyzed, the future of autonomous delivery is anyone’s guess. But even if consumers are not interested in self-driving tech yet, clearly automobile companies and restaurants are curious. Maybe c-stores should be, too.