ANN ARBOR, Mich. >> In the race to develop self-driving cars, much of the attention has focused on ferrying people. But delivering goods — from groceries to packages to books and more — may offer a considerable opportunity as well.
“We think there’s a very good business,” said Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president for autonomous vehicles and electrification. And for Ford, it starts with pizza.
The Domino’s pizza chain this week plans to start testing deliveries using a self-driving Ford Fusion sedan outfitted with enough sensors, electronics and software to find its way to customers’ homes or offices in a section of this city 40 miles west of Detroit.
“It’s going to be a real learning experience,” said Dennis Maloney, chief digital officer at Domino’s, which is based here. “No one really knows what’s going to happen when customers walk out to the car. They’re faced with a car. There’s no human interaction.”
Ford has been seen as lagging in the development of driverless vehicles, and the Domino’s experiment offers a chance to showcase its technology. As far as using such cars as a mode of delivery, Marakby said, “we think it will take off in 2021” — which is when Ford expects to begin producing a fully autonomous vehicle that will have no steering wheel and no pedals.
For the Domino’s trial, Ford is providing a self-driving Fusion that scans the road with radar and cameras. It also uses lidar — a kind of radar based on laser beams — that can be found in a rooftop unit featuring distinctive spinning canisters. The images collected are compared instantaneously with detailed digital maps to ensure the car knows precisely where it is on the road and how to reach its destination.
The car will actually have a safety driver at the wheel to take over in case of a malfunction, a Ford engineer in the passenger seat to monitor the electronics and computers and a Domino’s employee in the back to observe the customer.
One customer advantage of taking delivery from a self-driving car: If there’s no driver, there’s no tip.