Ford and Domino's have collaborated on the Self-Driving Delivery Vehicle, an autonomous hybrid Fusion that will deliver pizzas to customers in a trial in Ann Arbor in the next few weeks. What's different about this, compared to other autonomous vehicle trials, is that the tests are meant to see how people outside the vehicles react.
"As part of the testing, researchers from both companies will investigate customer reactions to interacting with a self-driving vehicle as a part of their delivery experience," Ford writes in a press release. "This research is important as both companies begin to examine and understand customers' perspectives around the future of food delivery with self-driving vehicles."
While I can see why both companies would want to undertake such a trial, I think that from the perspective of the end user, pizza delivery is a poor application for an autonomous car, and a far better job for a drone. Here's why.
The whole reason you order a pizza is because you don't want to get up off your lazy ass and go to the store. I think this sloth will extend to people not wanting to go outside into their driveways and press buttons on a tablet mounted to the car in order to get the correct pizza to come out of the window. Also, think about if it's raining outside: If the customer has a choice between selecting delivery via autonomous vehicle or by a deliveryperson who will ring the doorbell, which will they choose?
If you want to go autonomous, it doesn't really make sense, from an energy perspective, to put a 3,615-pound vehicle on the road to deliver a half-dozen pizzas. Even though the vehicle is a cleaner-burning hybrid, it's still going to require maintenance, storage, electricity, etc. While there are a number of regulatory hurdles to clear, pizza-delivering drones would make more sense from a carbon footprint perspective.
For their part, Domino's is aware of the challenge of getting someone to leave their house. "The majority of our questions are about the last 50 feet of the delivery experience," says Russell Weiner, president of Domino's USA. "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 versus next to the curb."
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This isn't a test for delivering pizza, this is a test for delivering ingredients. Eventually, food will be cooked and maybe even prepared as it's driven to the destination, reducing the need to keep pizzas warm. If you're just driving ingredients, you can locate your supply depots in much more affordable locations off of the beaten path since it doesn't matter if it takes 10 minutes or 10 hours for the vehicle to reach you at home. Pizzas are perfect because they are small and they're easy to prepare and cook. While a car likely wouldn't have enough room for the production of a pizza, a UPS style delivery truck might.
Rolling is more efficient than flying. Ultimately it wouldn't need to be a huge family sedan, it would end up being a tiny vehicle that is mostly cargo space. Especially if fully autonomous.