Domino's pizza robot is giving tech a bad name

This robot saunters to your home at 12 mph and insists that you leave your house to meet it on the sidewalk to get your cold pizza. Domino's stresses that you can't pay it a tip, but there was never much risk of that.

Domino's Pizza
Credit: Domino's

Domino's seems to be trying to master the sneaky tech move. It has deployed an attention-getting, flashy toy that, truth be told, has very little to do with technology and everything to do with making consumers curious enough to order its less-than-delectable pizzas.

We've talked about it with its oven cars, a huge fake button that is supposed to be about ordering but really isn't and a social media purchasing campaign that was tricky marketing at its best.

I know that, because I think we all should order good-tasting pizzas from local pizzerias, I shouldn't help promote these efforts. But Domino's appears to know how to get to me: It is now using an R2D2-like robot to deliver pizzas. How can I resist a story that screams "geek" so loudly?

The name of this (so far) one-of-a-kind robot is DRU, and it is indigenous to Australia. Standing 3 feet tall, it can zoom around town as fast as 12 mph. That 12 is a magic number here, because it's also the maximum number of miles DRU can go on one charge — so if you live more than 5.9 miles away, you can forget it. I guess if you live exactly six miles away, they have to hope this computer can run on the electric equivalent of fumes. Maybe sparks?

According to a story in The Washington Post, "Domino’s has started using a robotic cart named DRU, which stands for Domino’s Robotic Unit, to deliver its offerings. So far Domino’s has only one DRU. The prototype was developed with an Australian start-up, Marathon Robotics. The DRU (pronounced Drew) drives on bike paths and sidewalks to find the most efficient, fastest route. [Domino's Australia Chief Digital Officer Michael] Gillespie pointed to its ability to circumvent heavy traffic as a key advantage over vehicles. DRU is not being used on roadways and legal approval is a hurdle."

Here's where we try and distinguish between true innovation and publicity stunt. Yes, it certainly can circumvent heavy traffic — and at a top pedal-to-the-metal speed of 12 mph, it's circumventing that traffic mighty slowly. When the goal of most pizza delivery — and it's certainly a goal of Domino's — is to quickly deliver a hot product, this definitely edges into the stunt arena.

Besides, how many nanoseconds will it take before local teens — and drunks of all ages — make a game of knocking this slow-motion android to the ground? (And before you email or make comments, I know that there's a difference between androids and robots. If Lucasfilm can still call R2D2 an android — which is what "droid" is short for — then so can I.)

On the plus side, DRU can't accept a tip. Then again, after it strolls to your property with an ice-cold pie, it's not like you will have a burning desire to give it an extra five bucks.

But this gets better. The robot doesn't come to your front door and ring the bell. No, you're supposed to leave the house and meet it on the sidewalk when it texts you.

What is the security used? What is to prevent someone else from intercepting the robot and stealing the pizza? (Right: Who is going to steal something from Domino's? My error.)

Then there's this classic quote attributed to Gillespie: "We have a relentless passion to push the boundaries of what’s possible with pizza delivery. As we get further, it’s not hard to believe that we might have a store with a couple of [robots] that are doing deliveries." And it's also hard not to believe that after the novelty wears off — which shouldn't need more than one delivery — this store will be noteworthy for being ignored more than the typical Domino's.

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