The development of Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology can sometimes be as easy as pie, a pizza pie that is.
Ann Arbor, Michigan-based pizza chain Domino’s and autonomous vehicle developer Nuro Monday unveiled a new self-driving pizza delivery vehicle. The two companies will be testing in a Houston neighborhood.
The way it works is that select customers who place a prepaid website order from the participating Domino’s store can opt to have their order delivered by R2, the nickname for the driverless vehicle, which got approval to drive on roads in California in February 2020 — first vehicle to get that approval in the U.S.
These select customers receive text alerts updating them on R2’s location and provide them with a unique PIN to retrieve their order once the vehicle arrives at their home. Customers may also track the vehicle via GPS on their order confirmation page. Once R2 arrives, customers will be prompted to enter their PIN on the robot’s touchscreen. R2’s doors will then open upward, revealing the customer’s hot Domino’s order.
Pizza delivery explores future of AVs
“We’re excited to continue innovating the delivery experience for Domino’s customers by testing autonomous delivery with Nuro in Houston,” said Dennis Maloney, Domino’s senior vice president and chief innovation officer.
“There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space. This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations.”
Domino’s spokeswoman Dani Bulger said this system will not eliminate Domino’s need for delivery drivers, as this is a test intended to keep us ahead in the world of technology.
“We’ve introduced many innovations over the years, which have changed the roles of some jobs, but employment has continued to grow,” Bulger said. “We believe autonomous vehicles will play a role in our overall delivery strategy, alongside our delivery drivers, as we continue to provide the best delivery experience possible to our customers. We don’t use third-party delivery aggregators.”
This isn’t Domino’s maiden voyage with autonomous delivery vehicles. In 2017, the pizza maker teamed with Ford on a similar project in Ann Arbor. The test program ran six weeks and used driverless Ford Fusion sedans converted for specially for the project. Each vehicle is equipped with a heated compartment that can carry up to four pizzas and five side dishes.
Much like the Nuro-Domino’s collaboration, customers punched in PIN to gain access to their order. There actually was a person behind the wheel of the prototype delivery vehicles — a Ford engineer monitoring the operation of the test cars. But the windows of the vehicles will be blacked out and there was no direct interaction with customers.
The Silicon Valley startup rolled out its first iteration of R2 last fall. It’s specifically designed for “last mile” deliveries. To that end, the R2 is small. And that’s for a specific reason. Narrow vehicles allow for better passive and dynamic safety. This could help prevent pedestrian fatalities on roads.
Since Nuro vehicles only carry goods, the company can turn safety innovation inside out, shifting its focus to protecting those outside the vehicle.
The R2 features 360-degree cameras, as well as Lidar, short and long-range radar, and ultrasonic sensors. These techs combine that advanced hardware with a robust autonomy stack that includes mapping, localization, perception, and prediction. The result is a representation of the road without any blind spots.
The R2 is built using the principles of “Intelligent Production.” The company uses basic components when they make sense and crafts custom parts when needed. That allows Nuro to build the best system without being limited by the constraints of existing vehicles.
This approach allows Nuro to deploy and iterate quickly to create safe autonomous solutions as quickly as possible.
“Nuro’s mission is to better everyday life through robotics. Now, for the first time, we’re launching real world, autonomous deliveries with R2 and Domino’s,” said Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president. “We’re excited to introduce our autonomous delivery robots to a select set of Domino’s customers in Houston. We can’t wait to see what they think.”