Domino's Pizza unveils world's first autonomous delivery vehicle

Domino's has thought outside the box, prototyping what it claims is the world's first autonomous delivery vehicle that has already traversed Brisbane streets to deliver pizzas.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Dominos Pizza has unveiled its plans for the first commercial autonomous delivery vehicle, the Domino's Robotic Unit, known as DRU.

The four-wheeled driverless vehicle with pizza box-sized compartments has been designed for the pizza giant with help from Australian startup Marathon Robotics.

Speaking in Brisbane on Thursday night, Domino's CEO and Managing Director Don Meij said that DRU had already successfully performed a number of customer deliveries in restricted streets in Brisbane under a special permit given by the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads.

During these trials, DRU was operated in semi-autonomous mode to ensure the tests complied with current regulation.

"This highlights what can happen when disruptive thinking is fostered -- it turns into a commercially viable and revolutionary product," Meij said.

"It allows Domino's to explore new concepts and push the boundaries of what is possible for our customers. The DRU prototype is only the first step in our research and development as we continue to develop a range of innovations set to revolutionise the entire pizza ordering experience."


Domino's Robotic Unit, DRU

(Image: Supplied)

Despite the fanfare, the CEO does not expect DRU to be making any deliveries in the immediate future.

"This is a long journey, even when DRU hits the streets, we will still be constantly monitoring him for complications. Things will always go wrong along the way and DRU will always be about safety first," he said. "It seems pretty crazy to us that 1.5-2 tonne vehicles deliver a few hundred grams of pizza."

DRU has a custom-built hot and cold food compartment and upon receiving a delivery, the customer inputs a code provided to them by Domino's, which opens the top hatch of the unit.

In terms of cost, Meij said that a single DRU unit could be priced at approximately AU$30,000, due in most to leveraging the technology Marathon Robotics has brought to the collaboration, with DRU's predecessors used mainly in military environments.

Starting out as a delivery driver himself, Meij said that he does not expect DRU to take jobs of those working as delivery drivers, saying that there will always be deliveries DRU will not be capable of doing, such as those that require manipulating peak hour traffic.

Capable of driving at only 18 to 20 kilometres per hour, the 190kg DRU is not expected to hit the busy streets of Australia just yet, but using Google Map data and data obtained by Domino's GPS tracking technology, the robot can manipulate bridges, footpaths, and even rubbish bins placed on the curb.

Meij said that there's still a number of pieces of technology that still need to be developed, such as DRU only able to travel approximately 20 kilometres before having to return to base to recharge. Meij said the possibility of solar power, or a more renewable charging option would be ideal before DRU makes it into the market.

"Domino's has always aimed to build forward thinking products and services for customers," Meij said. "Research shows that autonomous vehicles are the future of delivery."

"DRU is cheeky and endearing and we are confident that one day he will become an integral part of the Domino's family. He's a road to the future and one that we are very excited about exploring further."

DRU was born out of Domino's innovation lab, DLAB, which the pizza giant launched in February. Located at Domino's headquarters in Brisbane, DLAB is a startup incubator, designed to attract a dynamic range of entrepreneurs from food science through digital technology.

"The centre will allow startups to use our facilities while being exposed to our commercial culture and how we bring innovation to life," Meij said at the time. "Vice-versa, we are exposed to that enthusiastic, paranoid, dynamic culture of startups that we'd love to bounce off.

"It is a way for us to speed up our innovation and to do more."

Dominos has been Australia's poster child for how to turn a bricks and mortar business into a digital empire, with its chief digital officer Michael Gillespie saying previously 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."

Domino's launched its GPS Driver Tracker in partnership with Navman Wireless last May, with the initiative seeing delivery drivers tracked via GPS when en route to making a delivery, which was an evolution from its Live Pizza Tracker.

Customers of Domino's can also order a pizza by sending a text message displaying only a pizza emoji.

With further innovation hot in his mind, Meij is adamant that he does not want to see Australia continue to licence technology from Silicon Valley, saying that DRU is Australia's Kodak moment.

Disclaimer: Asha Barbaschow travelled to Brisbane as a guest of Domino's Pizza.

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