Dominos is about to start delivering pizzas with autonomous robots

A Nuro delivery robot.
A Nuro delivery robot.
Image: Nuro
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If you’re in the Houston, Texas area and in the mood for pizza, you may soon be able to get some Domino’s delivered by a small, self-driving robot.

The pizza chain announced today (June 17) that it has entered into a partnership with Nuro, a robotics delivery startup, to test using its robots to transport pizzas from a store in Houston.

Nuro announced an initial funding round in 2018 to help it build small autonomous trucks that could deliver goods, including groceries, flowers, hardware products, or just about anything else that would fit in the robots. The goal eventually is for any small business to be able to rent space in the robots so that they can provide delivery options to consumers where it was infeasible before.

But for now, Nuro is working with major companies that have the time, and money, to experiment. After securing roughly $1 billion in additional funding from Japanese tech giant SoftBank in February, the company has been working with the grocery-store chain Kroger’s, offering autonomous deliveries in the Houston area. It uses Toyota Priuses, equipped with the same sensors as its robots, to map neighborhoods it plans to deliver in, and then its robots can use those maps, adding any changes they see as they complete their trips.

The three-year-old company is applying what it’s learned from working with Kroger’s and its customers to the world of pizza delivery. Cosimo Leipold, Nuro’s head of partner relations, told Quartz that the company will likely be working with one of Domino’s corporate-owned stores (97% of the outlets are franchised) by the last quarter of 2019, but the store hasn’t been chosen yet.

Nuro’s co-founder Jiajun Zhu with Domino’s CEO Ritch Allison.
Nuro’s co-founder Jiajun Zhu with Domino’s CEO Ritch Allison.

The goal is to create a service that’s on par with the delivery experience a Domino’s customer would get from a human, Leipold said, adding that Nuro likely won’t be changing much about its R2 robot to deliver pizza. “Hot food delivery is not an area you can get too clever with,” he added.

Domino’s likes to think of itself as a technology company, with a hyper-efficient logistics and supply chain setup. And working with Nuro isn’t the first time it’s tried to replace delivery people with robots. It partnered with Flirtey to deliver pizzas by autonomous drones in New Zealand, and even built its own robot in Australia to try delivering pizzas there. It also worked with Ford in 2017 and 2018 to learn more about how delivering pizzas from a self-driving car might look. (The company told Quartz this partnership has since ended.)

But the hope is that Nuro can be more than another publicity stunt for the pizza chain. Nuro and Domino’s plan to eventually add more robots to the location they choose in Houston, and after that, more stores in the area. Customers will order a pizza as they regularly would, and if they’re within an area that Nuro can deliver to, they’ll get the option for a robot delivery.