Last week, my colleague Chris Albrecht noted that FedEx is launching an autonomous delivery vehicle called SameDay Bot. Pizza Hut, whose delivery strategy has had to undergo major changes in recent months, has jumped on board the opportunity and will use the bot to deliver to hungry customers later this year.
FedEx’s creation is a zero-emission, battery-powered bot designed to travel sidewalks and roads, and even climb stairs and curbs. FedEx enlisted the help of engineer Dean Kamen, best known as the inventor of the Segway, to develop the vehicle. And since it’s autonomous, the bot is equipped with mapping tools and cameras that allow it to maneuver through cities without crashing into pedestrians or upsetting other aspects of sidewalk life. It looks like a small fridge on wheels. When it reaches its destination, two doors automatically open and customers can grab their pizzas from inside.
Pizza Hut’s test run is slated for summer 2019 in Memphis, TN.
Getting a hot pizza into a customer’s hands — also known as last-mile logistics — is a key area for companies to get right when it comes to delivery. There are tons of potential solutions out there, from Postmates’ adorable li’l rover Served to Kiwi’s bots, currently roaming the streets of Westwood in Los Angeles.
Pizza chains seem especially aggressive when it comes to solving the last-mile logistics question — justifiably so, since pizza gets cold quickly and, despite coming in a nice, stackable box, will sometimes upset in transit and leave half the cheese and toppings on the cardboard, not the pie.
Partnering with FedEx isn’t Pizza Hut’s first foray into last-mile solutions. Last year, the Plano, TX-based company unveiled an autonomous kitchen that would cook pizzas in transit. The Tundra PIE Pro, as it’s called, is still a prototype, and Pizza Hut hasn’t disclosed if or when it will actually come to market. The company also expanded beer delivery earlier this year.
Even so, The Hut has its work cut out when it comes to standing out in last-mile logistics. Its chief rival, Domino’s, is widely recognized as one of the most tech-savvy and innovative restaurant companies in business today. Last year it launched “HotSpots,” or delivery locations that don’t have a traditional address but are instead places like parks, beaches, and other areas where groups gather. Domino’s has over 150,000 of these so far. In a completely separate endeavor, the company also expanded its partnership with what3words, whose algorithm converts GPS coordinates into more precise address locations. Domino’s is finding this initiative especially helpful in countries where traditional, orderly street addresses aren’t necessarily a guarantee.
Domino’s builds most of its tech in-house. Pizza Hut’s success with the SameDay Bot, meanwhile, will in part depend on FedEx, since the technology belongs to the latter. If FedEx decides the technology is a bust and shelves it, Pizza Hut will have to find another route to autonomous delivery vehicles. On the other hand, FedEx is a last-mile logistics company, and the SameDay bot could very well prove itself an efficient, cost-effective way of delivering products. In that case, Pizza Hut will have found a far cheaper solution to autonomous delivery than any in-house tech ever could be — for the company, its franchises, and its customers.