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Ford and Domino's Pizza are teaming up to test self-driving pizza delivery cars in Michigan, as part of an effort to better understand how customers respond to and interact with autonomous vehicles.
In the coming weeks, randomly selected Domino's customers in Ann Arbor, Michigan will have the option to accept pizza deliveries from a Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle. But the car won't be driving itself.
Each car will be driven by a Ford safety engineer, with other researchers onboard, who will zero in on the last 50 feet of the customer experience.
Sherif Marakby, Vice President of Ford Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, described the project as ethnographic research in an interview with The Verge. "We don't want to wait until we get everything done on the tech and remove the driver. We're trying to start doing the research. We still are working on the technology, because it's not ready to be put on public streets," he said. "It's simulating that the vehicle is in autonomous mode."
Those who participate in the test can track their order through a Domino's app and will receive a unique code that matches the last four digits of their phone number to be used to unlock the so-called Heatwave Compartment — a container that keeps pizzas warm in the back of the car. Information will be communicated through screens and speakers on the exterior of the cars.
"We're interested to learn what people think about this type of delivery," Russell Weiner, president of Domino's USA, said in a statement. "The majority of our questions are about the last 50 feet of the delivery experience."
Areas of focus include how willing are people to come outside to pick up their orders, the way they approach the car, and how they interact with the screen outside of the vehicle to get the food.
Marakby said this is the first of multiple partnership between Ford and other companies as part of efforts to ramp up autonomous vehicle testing. "The key thing is that our development is going to benefit from these partnerships," Marakby said. "We will incorporate changes when we launch at scale in 2021, whether it's perishable or non-perishable deliveries."
Ford, like many other carmakers, has invested heavily in autonomous technology, with an eye toward bringing self-driving cars to market by 2021. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to invest $1 billion in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence startup.
"The human aspect is the most significant piece here. We know we can create technology, but it has to be based on the human element of how we're using the AVs," Marakby said.