Domino’s last night rolled out plans for a pizza delivery robot and it looked liked a PR gimmick whichever way you sliced it.
Each unit costs $30,000, so obviously they’d be a juicy target for thieves.
How do they climb steps, negotiate parks, kerbs, prams and traffic lights?
What local government in its right mind is ready to let autonomous robots crowd the footpaths?
Yet Domino’s Group CEO and managing director, Don Meij, reckons it’s possible we’ll see DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) on the streets of Brisbane by the end of the year.
The four-wheel unit can carry drinks and pizza along a city footpath at a top speed of 18km/h. And it’s already been tested. Domino’s released a video today showing trials in Brisbane, where DRU caught a jogger and group of attractive young people gathered on a step completely by surprise:
And the people responsible for the tech that drives DRU have no doubt the concept is viable. They are Marathon Targets, a Sydney based robotics company that has been building autonomous robots for nearly 10 years.
Brooks’s robots cost about $250,000 each and the company has sold hundreds to armed forces around the world, including $57 million worth to the US Marines in 2010.
Initially built on Segways, Marathon developed a 4WD base made for rugged terrain, sensors and on-board software to simulate a battle environment and mimic human behaviour under fire.
So the challenge of navigating Brisbane’s streets isn’t too much of a challenge at all, really.
“It won’t be rolling out en masse tomorrow, that’s for sure, but we’re uniquely placed to be able to do this,” Brooks said. “I’m not aware of any other company in the world that has a decade of experience of robots operating in real world environments around people, around the globe, so there’s high confidence we can get there.”
Brooks said the rollout will be incremental across Australia, but the team had already done live trials on the streets to customers in Brisbane, with special permission from the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads.
“There was a big wow factor, people think it’s pretty cool,” Brooks said. “The challenge is to get over the novelty hump and actually make a commercial product.”
No, DRU won’t be able to deliver every order that comes in. Brooks said it will work in conjunction with humans, and assess the order to see if it’s a best fit for droid or human delivery.
And he’s not too worried about thieves.
“That’s another challenge and its kind of a new frontier here to figure out how society will adapt,” Brooks said. “The robots will have a permanent link back to home base so the operator can intervene at any point. They’ll have cameras plastered all over them, they’ll be tracked at all times.
“We can intervene and ask people politely not to mess with the robot and call the police if it gets to that. And they’re also like 150-odd kilos, so it’s a challenging task to nick one.”
Brooks said Marathon has been “operating these things in the military space all over the world for a decade and we haven’t run anyone over yet”.
It all looks like another big win for the pizza chain, which shot clear of its competition on the back of its Driver Tracker app, gourmet pizzas and has enjoyed a strong run of profitable quarters after pushing into big overseas markets such as China and Brazil.
But DRU is a uniquely Australian innovation for the pizza chain, developed in conjunction with its own DLAB, a purpose built lab aimed at helping entrepreneurs commercialise ideas.
“To launch DRU from concept through to development of a prototype highlights the extraordinary talent and resources available on our doorstep, both with excellent external talent such as Marathon and the knowledge and experience of our internal team at Domino’s,” Meij said.
“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.”
Here’s the video: