Toyota and Pizza Hut jump into autonomous vehicle food delivery race

Pizza Hut and Toyota formed partnership to explore the future of pizza delivery, beginning with the development of Toyota's e-Palette autonomous concept vehicle unveiled on Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Toyota)
PLANO, Texas - 

The days of those “beater” units being used for food deliveries might be numbered.

Another pizza chain and an automaker are collaborating to bring hot food to your home, or perhaps dealership, without someone behind the wheel of that heavily used vehicle you might have retailed.

A few months after Domino’s and Ford announced their intentions. Pizza Hut and Toyota on Monday revealed that they have forged a global partnership to explore the future of pizza delivery and other initiatives to improve mobility around the world.

Toyota unveiled designs of a self-driving concept vehicle called e-Palette at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and Pizza Hut is one of the founding members of a new “mobility service business alliance” that also includes Amazon, Didi, Mazda and Uber.

The announcement follows a number of initiatives from Pizza Hut created to provide the best delivery experience, including a new delivery algorithm that drastically improves the accuracy and reliability of deliveries, new delivery pouches able to keep pizzas up to 15 degrees hotter and a pilot test of beer and wine delivery in the U.S.

And when the plans come together the pizza won’t arrive in that older, high-mileage Corolla you might have retailed a few months ago.

OEM officials highlighted the mobility service business alliance will leverage Toyota’s proprietary Mobility Services Platform (MSPF) to develop a suite of connected mobility solutions and a flexible, purpose-built fully-autonomous vehicle. They added the alliance will create a broad-based ecosystem of hardware and software support designed to help a range of companies utilize advanced mobility technology to better serve customers. Toyota plans to implement testing of the e-Palette Vehicle Concept in several regions, including the United States, as early as 2020.

Starting in early 2018, Pizza Hut and Toyota also will jointly test dual communication technology in Pizza Hut delivery vehicles to capture data on driver patterns and behaviors.  Better data will result in improved performance for both companies, optimize the safety of delivery, as well as enhance delivery operations.

“The common ground between our two global brands is fueled by innovation that enriches people’s lives,” said Zack Hicks, chief executive officer of Toyota Connected. “The e-Palette Alliance and e-Palette fully-autonomous vehicle are major steps in our expansion to advance products and services that help provide mobility for all, and we're thrilled to continue the journey in partnership with Pizza Hut.”

This whole project isn’t some “cheesy” endeavor unique to Toyota.

Back in August, Domino’s Pizza and launched a collaboration to understand the role that self-driving vehicles can play in pizza delivery.

As part of the testing, Domino’s and Ford indicated researchers from both companies will investigate customer reactions to interacting with a self-driving vehicle as a part of their delivery experience.  This research is important as both companies begin to examine and understand customers’ perspectives around the future of food delivery with self-driving vehicles.

Soon after the initial announcement, randomly selected Domino’s customers in Ann Arbor, Mich., had the opportunity to receive their delivery order from a Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle, which was to be manually driven by a Ford safety engineer and staffed with researchers. Customers who agreed to participate have been able to track the delivery vehicle through GPS using an upgraded version of Domino’s Tracker. They also received text messages as the self-driving vehicle approaches meant to guide them on how to retrieve their pizza using a unique code to unlock the Domino’s Heatwave Compartment inside the vehicle.

“I’m delighted that Ann Arbor continues to be at the forefront of autonomous-vehicle research,” Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor said at the time of the announcement. “While it’s pizza delivery today, my hope is that collaborations such as this will enable even more innovations tomorrow.”  

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