In another sign of the increasing popularity of driverless food delivery, Domino’s announced a new partnership with autonomous robotics company Nuro. As part of the deal, the startup’s self-driving vehicles will deliver pizza, wings, and pasta to Houston-area consumers. The pilot program is set to launch later this year and might expand in 2020.
The R2 Delivery Bot
To facilitate Domino’s deliveries, Nuro will be deploying its new R2 bot. The autonomous vehicle is an updated version of the company’s R1 car, which currently delivers groceries for Kroger in Houston and Scottsdale, Arizona. The R2 is reportedly half the size of a sedan and features two food carrying compartments. When arriving at a customer’s home, the machine will ask for a code that will unlock its pizza partitions.
Nuro has taken steps to ensure the B2 can operate safely on the Space City streets. When being sent on delivery, the autonomous food cart will be followed by a human monitor in a car. The robotics firm plans to use the pilot program to study how its machines handle a new logistics paradigm. The R1s make grocery shipments within one hour, but pizza party participants expect faster delivery times.
For Domino’s, the autonomous vehicle initiative will address a fundamental challenge to its business. The corporation currently operates more than 6,000 restaurants in the United States, but it’s facing a labor shortage. If the Houston pilot program proves successful, it will help the company fill its 10,000 open driver positions.
Notably, Domino’s partnered with the Ford Motor Company to develop delivery robots in 2017. However, that program, which utilized autonomous vehicles equipped with heated compartments, ended without a nationwide deployment.
The Autonomous Food Delivery Race
Nuro isn’t the only company attempting to make driverless delivery viable. Indeed, it’s not even the only corporation that’s working to bring autonomous delivery to the pizza sector. In 2018, Pizza Hut inked a deal with the Toyota Motor Corporation to develop new driverless delivery solutions.
Alphabet also entered the autonomous vehicle delivery race in April. The conglomerate, which also owns Google, secured Federal Aviation Administration approval to begin testing drone delivery in rural Virginia.
Furthermore, The Burn-In reported Amazon is testing autonomous vehicle distribution in a small Seattle suburb called Silver Firs. The corporation is using cooler-sized, six-wheeled robots called “Scouts” to bring goods to Amazon Prime members.
Amazon has taken a unique approach to train its delivery robots. Instead of sending dozens of rovers out on food transportation missions, the corporation is field testing its machines virtually.
The firm deployed Scouts in Silver Firs last March and used them to gather enough data to create a digital copy of the town. The company now uses its disappointing real-life version of the Matrix to train its bots to make deliveries under different weather and road conditions.
Thus far, Amazon has twice failed to make food delivery viable. In 2014, the Big Tech giant launched a service called Amazon Local that allowed Prime members to order food from area restaurants. However, it ended the program after taking a $169 million write-down in 2015. On June 10, the corporation announced it would be discontinuing the Amazon Restaurants service that it’s operated since 2015.
If the Scout initiative proves viable, Amazon might be able to profit from offering restaurant food delivery nationwide.
The Postmates Variation
Logistics firm Postmates is also working hard to create viable autonomous delivery. However, the firm isn’t interested in replacing human drivers as much as it is making them more efficient.
The company discovered it makes half of its shipments to consumers living within walking distance of a restaurant. As such, Postmates developed a delivery robot called Serve.
The machine, which features a child-friendly design, utilizes lidar, sonar, and computer vision systems to direct its movements. However, this bot doesn’t transport food directly from restaurant to customer. Instead, it picks up orders from pizza joints and burger places and brings them to a waiting driver. The Postmates courier then drops a Serve off near the customers home to complete delivery.
In addition to being undeniably adorable, the Serve rovers are also highly functional. For instance, the bots can transport a 50-pound load up to 25 miles on one charge.
Currently, Postmates has deployed its bright-eyed bots in Los Angeles and Toronto.
Overall, whichever company manages to mainstream autonomous food delivery might be able to dominate a rapidly developing and highly lucrative market. Since 2014, digital ordering has increased by 300 percent in the United States. Indeed, analysts estimate the restaurant-to-consumer delivery sector is worth $13.472 billion in 2019 and will grow to $16.628 billion.