Domino’s is launching autonomous pizza delivery with a tiny self-driving car

Nuro x Domino's Image 2
  • Domino’s is delivering pizzas in Houston in an autonomous robot.
  • Nuro, the robotics company, is also partnered with CVS, Walmart, and Chipotle.
  • Delivery has been huge for restaurants during the pandemic, and chains like Domino’s surged ahead.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Domino’s will start delivering pizzas with autonomous self-driving robots from Nuro, the companies announced.

The program will be available to certain customers in Houston, Texas using Nuro’s R2, the first autonomous on-road delivery vehicle approved by the US Department of Transportation.

Customers can order pizza online and opt to receive their delivery through Nuro. Then, they’ll get texts with information about the vehicle’s location and a PIN to enter on the touchscreen and get their pizza.

Read more: Chipotle’s chief technology officer reveals the chain’s strategy for deploying Nuro’s autonomous vehicles for burrito-bowl deliveries and more

Domino’s senior vice president and chief innovation officer Dennis Maloney says Nuro is part of the evolution of delivery.

“This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations,” Maloney said in a statement. “The growing demand for great-tasting pizza creates the need for more deliveries, and we look forward to seeing how autonomous delivery can work along with Domino’s existing delivery experts to better support the customers’ needs.”

Nuro x Domino's Image 1

Pizza and wings were hailed as early winners in the pandemic as Americans increasingly ordered from brands that were already set up to accommodate delivery, like Papa John’s and Wingstop. Domino’s added over 600 new stores in 2020, overall sales were up 10.4% for the year. Meanwhile, the rest of the industry saw huge losses, up to $30 billion in March 2020 and $50 billion in April 2020.

Sales via delivery, curbside pickup, and drive-thrus all exploded for restaurants during the pandemic as indoor dining closed and consumers avoided shopping inside restaurants and grocery stores.

California-based Nuro is using this delivery push as a chance to expand. So far, the company has partnered with Walmart, CVS, Kroger, and Chipotle.

“Nuro’s mission is to better everyday life through robotics. Now, for the first time, we’re launching real world, autonomous deliveries with R2 and Domino’s,” co-founder and president Dave Ferguson said in a statement.

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Chipotle invests in self-driving startup Nuro

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  • The investment was part of Nuro’s Series C funding round.
  • This is the first “significant” investment that Chipotle made in a third-party technology since 2018, the company said.
  • Chipotle’s digital business rose 174% in 2020, almost half of which came from delivery, the company said.
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Chipotle has invested in the autonomous delivery company Nuro as part of the startup’s latest funding round, the company said on Thursday.

SoftBank-backed Nuro raised $500 million as part of the Series C funding round.

It is unclear if Chipotle will use Nuro for its own deliveries. Chipotle didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment and Nuro didn’t disclose the terms of the investment when asked for details.

“Early investments in digital innovation have provided a competitive advantage operationally with digital kitchens and the brand’s Chipotlanes,” the company said in a statement. “Now the organization is exploring disruptive opportunities outside of traditional third-party partnerships.”

The deal marks the first “significant” investment that the food chain restaurant made in a third-party technology company since Brian Niccol became CEO in 2018, the company added.

“Nuro could change the traditional delivery model and we believe consumers are going to continue to seek options and additional access points for how and where they enjoy their food,” said Curt Garner, Chief Technology Officer at Chipotle.

Nuro uses driverless on-road robotic cars to deliver products to consumers. In December, the startup received a commercial permit for autonomous delivery of food, groceries, and medicine in California.

“With financial and strategic support from world-class companies like Chipotle, we can continue to advance our industry-leading autonomous technology, grow our team and expand our delivery service,” said Dave Ferguson, Nuro Co-founder and President in the statement on Thursday.

The autonomous delivery startup has previously partnered with a number of retailers and restaurants for deliveries including Kroger, Walmart, Domino’s Pizza, and CVS.

Chipotle highlighted the importance of delivery to digital sales. The restaurant said on Thursday that its digital business increased 174% year over year in 2020, almost half of which came from delivery.

Chipotle has been looking for ways to expand its footprint in digital innovation. Earlier this month, Chipotle added a new customizable quesadilla to its menu that customers can order online only.

Chipotle’s digital orders made up 46.2% of its sales in 2020. The company posted $2.8 billion in digital sales last year.

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In California, little robot cars will deliver pizza, groceries, and medicine as a paid service in 2021 for the first time

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Your groceries, pizza, and medicine can now be delivered via robotic vehicles if you live in California, as Nuro received the state’s first commercial permit for autonomous delivery. 

San Francisco and Silicon Valley’s streets have been bustling with self-driving vehicles from an array of companies for years. But those vehicles have only been issued permits for testing on public roads. Now, the robotics-startup Nuro has an official stamp of approval to start its paid service, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Issuing the first deployment permit is a significant milestone in the evolution of autonomous vehicles in California. We will continue to keep the safety of the motoring public in mind as this technology develops,” said Steve Gordon, DMV director, in a statement

In 2017, California had granted Nuro approval to test its vehicles with safety drivers inside. In April 2020, it said the company could begin testing without drivers. 

Nuro driving in traffic
Nuro in traffic.

Now, the Mountain View-based company, which raised $500 million earlier this year, can deploy its vehicles for paid deliveries. 

It’ll begin service with modified Prius vehicles set in fully autonomous mode, then roll out its fleet of R2 vehicles, which don’t have driver’s seats, said David Estrada, chief legal and policy officer, in a blog post. Nuro, in early 2020 got US government permission to ditch the mirrors on its R2 fleet because, well, they don’t have seats or a steering wheel. 

“R2 was purposefully engineered for safety, with a design that prioritizes what’s outside – the people with whom we share the roads – over what’s inside,” Estrada said. It has a top speed of 35 mph and a small four-foot frame. It operates with thermal imaging, radar, and 360-degree cameras, to drive on the public road.

The deliveries will start in two communities near Nuro’s headquarters.

The company said driverless deliveries would have a “big impact” on Californians, both during and after the pandemic. They’ll help people who can’t drive and help streamline the lives of big, busy families, Nuro said. 

“We’re excited to see these benefits grow into the everyday lives of the people in our communities, in the places we also call home,” Estrada said. 

The company has ambitions beyond local grocery delivery. Nuro last week announced it was acquiring Ike, an autonomous trucking startup, for an undisclosed sum. 

Among several patents filed by Nuro is one detailing how advertisements might work on the side of a self-driving vehicle.

The patent describes how a self-driving vehicle’s sensor would pick up information about its surroundings and then serve an ad on the side of the vehicle based on that input. If it’s raining, say, the vehicle might display an ad for umbrellas. 

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