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Ford and Domino's
Looks like the pizza person will stay behind at the store and let the driverless car handle the delivery alone. (Ford Motor Co. Photo)

Imagine a future where you no longer have to say, “I think the pizza guy is at the door,” and instead proclaim, “The pizza car is out front!”

In a partnership that could rewire the way people envision getting a large cheese and pepperoni from the pizza maker to the coffee table in front of their television, Domino’s and Ford Motor Co. are teaming to better understand the role self-driving cars can play in all of it.

The companies announced Tuesday that they will seek to better understand how customers will react to having their food delivered without a human being.

“As delivery experts, we’ve been watching the development of self-driving vehicles with great interest as we believe transportation is undergoing fundamental, dramatic change,” said Patrick Doyle, Domino’s president and CEO, in a news release. “We pride ourselves on being technology leaders and are excited to help lead research into how self-driving vehicles may play a role in the future of pizza delivery. This is the first step in an ongoing process of testing that we plan to undertake with Ford.”

In a post on Medium, Sherif Marakby, Ford’s new vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, wrote that understanding customer reaction is a key part building a self-driving vehicle business.

“Our research begins with an observational study, looking at how people respond to and interact with a self-driving vehicle when it arrives with their pizza. Will they be willing to walk out to the curb? Or do we need to park in their driveway? Will people be able to determine which side of the vehicle the pizza is on? How will they need to be notified upon arrival since there won’t be a delivery person knocking on their door? What type of interface works best to guide people through the process of getting their pizza?”

Testing will occur over the next several weeks, as randomly-selected Domino’s customers in Ann Arbor, Mich., will have the opportunity to receive their delivery order from a Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle. The vehicle will be manually-driven by a Ford safety engineer and staffed with researchers. Customers will be able to track the delivery vehicle with GPS via the “Domino’s Tracker,” receive text messages about the pizza’s whereabouts, and eventually get a code to unlock the “Domino’s Heatwave Compartment” inside the driverless car.

Ford and Domino's
Customers get a code to unlock a compartment that holds their warm pizza. (Ford Motor Co. Photo)

Ford and Domino’s completed preliminary testing of the delivery process using the vehicle in self-driving mode at Mcity, the simulated urban environment on the University of Michigan’s campus.

This isn’t the first look by Domino’s toward the future of food delivery. The company, with more than 14,200 stores in over 85 international markets, puts an emphasis on technology innovation, with ordering platforms that include Google Home, Facebook Messenger, Apple Watch, Amazon Echo, Twitter and text message using a pizza emoji.

Last summer, Domino’s delivered a pizza by Flirtey drone in New Zealand, and the company’s DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) is being tested in Australia.

Sorry, Spicoli. Looks like Mr. Pizza Guy isn’t going to be knocking on the classroom door too much anymore …

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