​Domino's partners with Nuance for DRU artificial intelligence

The pizza giant has unveiled its plans to dominate the 'Internet of Food', launching into the artificial intelligence space with voice-activated pizza ordering.

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Domino's in-app DRU Assist

Screenshot: Asha McLean/ZDNet

Domino's has delivered new additions to its Domino's Robotics Unit (DRU) family, announcing the DRU Platform, an artificial intelligence (AI)-based technology that will allow customers to order a pizza using their voice.

As of Monday, customers will be able to use DRU Assist, an in-app AI virtual assistant that was built in partnership with natural language company Nuance. DRU Assist takes the pizza giant somewhat back to the start of its digital journey, with customers speaking to order a pizza via their phone.

Powered by Nuance's Nina, Domino's DRU Assist engages with customers in human-like conversation via text or speech recognition. Beyond ordering, DRU Assist can converse with the customer about menus, ingredients, store locations, and operating hours from within the Domino's app.

"DRU Assist is not just a toy, this is real platform change," Domino's group CEO and managing director Don Meij said. "DRU is for us everything robotic, everything machine learned, and everything AI."

Building on DRU Assist, Domino's also announced DRU 3rd Party, an AI system that will use third party AI platforms such as Amazon Echo and Google Echo, and will allow people to order pizza from smart devices within their home.

The only setback, Meij explained, is that these voice-activated devices are currently not available in Australia.

DRU Manager was also unveiled on Wednesday, which will see the focus shift to behind-the-scenes automation inside Domino's stores. DRU Manager will see Domino's AI platform use real-time data to automate rosters, as well as easily manage store stock levels.

"In 2017, Domino's is going from mobile first to AI first. That means that from this year onwards we will be developing nearly all of our platforms with an insight to engaging with AI and machine learning first as we adapt to all the different devices in society," Meij explained.

Speaking in Sydney on Wednesday, Meij explained the shift into "AI first" forms part of Domino's vision for the "Internet of Food", which is centred on removing barriers to make it easier for customers to order and pay for their meals online.

Almost a year ago, Domino's unveiled the first commercial autonomous delivery vehicle, DRU -- which is now called land-based DRU.

Capable of driving at only 18 to 20 kilometres per hour, land-based DRU uses Google Map data and data obtained by Domino's GPS tracking technology to manipulate bridges, footpaths, and even rubbish bins placed on the curb.

Weighing in at just under 190kg, the land-based DRU has a custom-built hot and cold food compartment. Upon receiving a delivery, the customer inputs a code provided to them by Domino's, which opens the top hatch of the unit.

On Wednesday, Domino's also unveiled its Facebook Messenger Bot, which will allow customers to chat to the bot via the Messenger app, and ask for coupons or discounts based on the customer's local store as well as their method of collection.

Another announcement the pizza giant served up was Domino's Anywhere, which will allow a customer to order a pizza from where they are by dropping a pin -- similar to the way Uber locates its riders -- and have a delivery driver show up to their exact location.

The concept, set to go live in the next few months, builds on the company's existing GPS Driver Tracker initiative, which Domino's launched in early 2015 in partnership with Navman Wireless.

In November, Domino's successfully completed the delivery of a pizza to a customer in New Zealand, using a drone as its mode of transport.

The unmanned aerial vehicle, DRU Drone by Flirtey, was autonomously controlled using GPS navigation, delivered to the yard of a residence in Whangaparaoa, 25km north of Auckland.

The successful delivery came three months after the companies announced their partnership and their intention to deliver pizza by drone.

On Wednesday, Domino's chief digital officer Michael Gillespie announced that Domino's is currently working on the logistics behind getting DRU Drone by Flirtey capable of delivering more pizzas, as well as how transport difficult-to-carry drinks and sides that often require different temperature environments.

"We want a bigger drone in the air delivering at an even faster rate," Gillespie said.

Given Australia's drone regulations, Meij said Flirtey will not be in Australia in the near future.

The original land-based DRU idea was born out of Domino's innovation lab, DLAB, with help from local startup Marathon Robotics. Opened in February last year, DLAB is a startup incubator based in Brisbane, designed to attract a dynamic range of entrepreneurs from food science through digital technology.

Previously, Gillespie said that in order to succeed, companies need to embrace startup thinking.

"Learn what makes those startups special and keep that aggressive innovative thinking -- make people want to use you," he said. "We've remembered our core; we've just used digital as a method to enhance that experience and delivery of our core product, which has evolved."

For the 2016 financial year, Domino's delivered AU$82.4 million in after tax profit, on total revenue of AU$930.2 million.

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