Driverless cars ultimately will move people. But, in the short term, they’re more likely to deliver pizza and other groceries.
Fast food chains, grocery stores and retail markets are looking at driverless vehicles to solve the so-called “last mile” problem. While e-commerce relies on overnight delivery services, food has a more tender shelf-life.
Enter driverless delivery.
Pizza chains were some of the first to announce they would harness the power of robotic cars to bring piping hot pizzas to people’s doors. In January, Toyota signed a deal with Pizza Hut to develop driverless electric vehicles for delivery purposes. The Japanese company revealed its autonomous concept vehicle, called the e-Palette, at the Consumers Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The e-Palette is a self-driving vehicle featuring an open-design layout designed to deliver pizza…. and a lot more. The vehicle comes in three sizes ranging from 13 to 23 feet long. It can be configured for everything from parcel delivery, to ride sharing, to serving as a mobile store.
When Pizza Hut was asked about whether driverless cars could potentially destroy the need for drivers, they said it actually would create more jobs by opening the pool of “drivers” to those who don’t own their own vehicles. The pizza giant stated that “drivers” might act more as servers and focus on hospitality.
“Instead of driving, the delivery guyy could do more customer service work”, said David Beede, an economist at the Commerce Department. These drivers could then focus on monitoring vehicles, making sure they’re running correctly and answer questions on the status of their pizza delivery.
Drivers Need Not Apply
That’s a departure from the type of research the other tomato pie giant eying driverless delivery is conducting. Domino’s announced they’re team up with Ford to test self-driving pizza delivery cars.
But unlike Pizza Hut, which imagines a world where drivers become hostesses, Domino’s is figuring out how people will react when drivers aren’t part of the equation at all. Pilot programs have started in Miami and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Soon, they’ll extend into Las Vegas.
How does it work?
Domino’s app customers have an option to accept deliveries from the Ford Fusion Hybrid self-driving vehicle. Once customers accept the driverless option, they receive a unique code and can track their order through the app. The code also unlocks the heat wave compartment, a container that keeps the pizza warm in the back of the car.
The current version of the cars have a Ford safety engineer onboard during delivery. These riders are observing how people interact with self-driving delivery vehicles. And, whether it is a legitimate alternative to drivers.
In a media statement, Russell Weiner, president of Domino’s USA said, “The majority of our research focuses on 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 versus next to the curb. All of our research is focused on the goal of making deliveries with self-driving vehicles as seamless and customer-friendly as possible.”
For example, multi-unit dwellings present a unique challenge. Where do the driverless vehicles park? How long does the vehicle wait? Do they need to circle the block to keep a parking space clear for other vehicles?
Grocers also want to solve these challenges and deliver goods to your doorstep. Without a delivery human. In July, Kroger announced it will test grocery delivery by driverless vehicles.
Kroger is the largest supermarket in America. Based in Cincinnati, the mega-grocer is partnering with Nuro, a Silicon Valley tech company that built a small, autonomous vehicle specifically designed for delivery.
Although Kroger hasn’t yet announced where it will pilot its program, it envisions customers placing same-day orders through Kroger’s ClickList system and Nuro’s app.
“We are incredibly excited about the potential of our innovative partnership with Nuro to bring the future of grocery delivery to customers today,” Yael Cosset, Kroger’s chief digital officer, said in a statement.
Blame it on Amazon setting high expectations. Even if user-friendly complexities delay large-scale rollout, food retailers will continue investing in ever-faster delivery for their customers. Drivers not required.
Article written by Israel S. Rodriguez. Submitted: 8/17/2018
Israel Salas-Rodriguez is a recent graduate from Brooklyn College. He’s the former Sports Editor of the school’s newspaper, The Kingsman. He is a former contributing writer for the Brooklyn Listening Project and Brooklyn News Service. When he’s not writing, he enjoys nights out in the city with friends, typically where ever margaritas are served.