No Flying Cars, But Autonomous Pizzas

In the news this week was an announcement by Domino’s Pizza that they would begin demoing automatic pizza delivery by a self-driving car. 

This isn’t the first time that a company has teased autonomous delivery—Amazon has been working on delivery drones for years—nor is it even the first pizza shop to “debut” something like this—Pizza Hut tried out drone delivery in the UK back in 2013. What’s notable about this is Domino’s attempt to provide autonomous delivery while tackling the biggest variable: people.

Drones are in the sky, where other drivers typically aren’t, barring a special license & training or a spectacular accident. Domino’s is attempting to deliver pizzas on public roads amid regular traffic. But as impressive as it sounds, it isn’t something we should expect to see everywhere in six months’ time. Only time will tell if this is a test or a stunt.

Here are the major caveats:

  • Domino’s is testing the autonomous delivery out of a single location in the Woodland Heights area of Houston, TX. It’s a grid-style residential neighborhood about a square mile in size, with two-lane streets and no lighted intersections. For comparison’s sake, figure Rhawnhurst from Algon to the Boulevard, without Castor or Bustleton cutting through it.
  • The vehicle they’re using is specially built by a company called Nuro. Looking at the vehicle, it’s as if someone flipped a bathtub onto a golf cart and stuck it full of computers, cameras, and two insulated tubs to hold pizzas. It is electric, it can’t go faster than 25 mph, and it’s not designed for larger areas with heavier pedestrian traffic or faster-moving vehicular traffic.
  • Nuro’s self-driving AI relies heavily on the deployment area being extensively mapped by human hands before it’s ever unleashed. Hence the first test being in a fairly simple, grid-style neighborhood. The equipment integrated into the vehicle itself is largely reactive—the LiDAR equipment and the cameras exist to make sure it doesn’t hit any large objects. There’s little data out there on how it would handle a wider, multi-lane street, or a car changing lanes, or road suddenly being closed. All proactive intelligence is largely done beforehand by humans.
  • It’s expensive technology packed into a small, lightweight package with little in the way of security. The price for a Nuro R2—the current vehicle being tested by Domino’s—has not been publicly released, but it’s listed as being six feet long and weighing less than 1,500 pounds. Not too many businesses in the delivery business have the profit margins to afford something so expensive and easily stolen/harvested, and the amount of expensive electronics packed into each vehicle make them targets for theft.

Is it cool? Absolutely. Is it a sign of things to come? Almost assuredly. Automation is on the rise and will consistently pose a larger and larger threat to various sectors of the service industry. Will we see it soon? Not likely. There is still a lot to sort out with self-driving vehicles, much less unmanned ones.

Is it something we’ll see tested up here? Probably not. The outlying areas of Philadelphia are much more difficult to map than the tech can currently handle, traffic moves fast enough that it would endanger a 25mph robot, and—frankly—most areas have much better, more established pizza options. Within Center City, the tech could probably function. But again… Philadelphia has much better pizza at almost every corner.

Plus… remember hitchBot?

Ready to Take The Next Step?

For more information about any of the products and services listed here, schedule a meeting today or register to attend a seminar.

Or give us a call at 215-657-9200