How Pizza Is Helping Us Design Our Self-Driving Future

By Sherif Marakby, Ford Vice President, Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification

The next time you order pizza, you might be helping shape the future of pizza delivery. Today, we’re kicking off a research collaboration with Domino’s Pizza to understand the role self-driving vehicles can play in food delivery.

Over the next several weeks, randomly selected Domino’s customers in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will have the opportunity to receive their delivery order from a Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle. The initial focus of our research together is understanding the last 50 feet of the delivery experience. What that means is we will be looking at how customers respond to this new experience, which will require them to interact with the self-driving car instead of a delivery person — walking out to the vehicle instead of just walking to answer their front door.

Understanding how automation will change the customer experience is a key part of how we’re building our future self-driving vehicle business because we want to apply the technology in ways that enhance people’s lives. To achieve this, we will partner with companies that specialize in the movement of people and goods.

Why are we interested in the movement of both people and goods? It’s a simple decision if you look around at how people’s behaviors are changing, especially in cities. They’re beginning to choose shared transportation instead of ownership, and they’re shopping and ordering online, which is driving growth in the delivery business. Both segments are growth markets — food delivery revenue is expected to grow from $13 billion to $39 billion in the next five years — that can be served by self-driving vehicles.

We believe self-driving technology can play a significant role in helping grow the market for restaurant delivery, serving as one way that we’ll build demand and scale for our autonomous vehicle business, in addition to people movement such as ride hailing. Domino’s, a delivery technology leader bringing more than 1 billion pizzas a year to people worldwide, makes a great partner to research how self-driving technology can be applied to the customer experience.

Our research begins with an observational study, looking at how people respond to and interact with a self-driving vehicle when it arrives with their pizza. Will they be willing to walk out to the curb? Or do we need to park in their driveway? Will people be able to determine which side of the vehicle the pizza is on? How will they need to be notified upon arrival since there won’t be a delivery person knocking on their door? What type of interface works best to guide people through the process of getting their pizza?

These types of questions and more need to be answered in order for us — working in collaboration with partners like Domino’s — to design self-driving vehicles as well as our business to deliver an experience that is customer-friendly and easy-to-use.

Achieving our self-driving future will take much more than just developing the technology. We must put the customer experience at the forefront of our thinking so self-driving vehicles improve the lives of people, the operations of our partner companies, and the mobility within our communities.