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Self-driving pizza delivery vehicles will hit Houston's roads later this year

Domino's and Nuro have picked Houston to launch a self-driving pizza delivery vehicle pilot program. Courtesy of Nuro and Domino's

Unmanned vehicles are taking over Houston, any way you slice it. Nuro, the robotics company specializing in commercialized self-driving cars, first entered the Houston market earlier this year with its grocery delivery partnership with Kroger. Now, the company has teamed up with Domino's Pizza to deliver an autonomous pizza delivery pilot program in Houston.

Only a select group of Houston Domino's customers will be able to have the option to choose an unmanned delivery process from the R2 vehicles. Currently, Nuro and Domino's have not revealed who will be able to use the service or when. In a news release from Domino's, the company notes that the technology will be available later this year.

"We are always looking for new ways to innovate and evolve the delivery experience for our customers," says Kevin Vasconi, Domino's executive vice president and chief information officer, in the release. "Nuro's vehicles are specially designed to optimize the food delivery experience, which makes them a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey. The opportunity to bring our customers the choice of an unmanned delivery experience, and our operators an additional delivery solution during a busy store rush, is an important part of our autonomous vehicle testing."

On online orders, select customers will have the option to choose to receive delivery from one of the R2 vehicles. Once the order is in, the customers would receive a PIN code to unlock the compartment to access the pizza upon its arrival.

"We are excited to expand our autonomous delivery service in Houston with Domino's delivery," says Cosimo Leipold, Nuro's head of partner relations, in the release. "Domino's delivers millions of pizzas around the world every day, and the company shares our passion for focusing on the customer experience. We see incredible opportunity in offering Nuro's world-class autonomous technology to Domino's customers, accelerating our shared mission to transform local commerce."

Self-driving vehicles are sure to change Houston's landscape, according to Rand Stephens, managing director of the Houston office of commercial real estate services company Avison Young.

"I think forward-thinking tenants, developers, brokers, architects, and engineers will design interim solutions with lower ratios," Stephens says in another InnovationMap article. "They'll really take the time to understand the occupants' commuting patterns and steer away from one parking space for one person."

Nuro Co-Founder Jiajun Zhu and Domino's CEO Ritch Allison in front of one of Nuro's R1 vehicle.sCourtesy of Nuro and Domino's

The company wants to make Texas "the home of self-driving trucks." PRNewsfoto/Kodiak Robotics

The Interstate 45 freight corridor between Houston and Dallas now serves as a testing ground for self-driving cargo trucks.

Silicon Valley startup Kodiak Robotics Inc. recently began sending its autonomous 18-wheel trucks on trips between Texas' two largest metro areas, co-founder and CEO Don Burnette says. The trucks are carrying paid cargo, but Kodiak won't identify the customer or customers. The company also won't say how many trips the trucks are making each day.

The Texas initiative represents Kodiak's first foray into commercial deliveries. Wired.com notes that pretty much every player in the autonomous truck sector has conducted tests in Texas or is carrying commercial loads in the Lone Star State, which boasts more than 2,300 miles of interstate highways.

For its part, Kodiak aims to make Texas "the home of self-driving trucks."

According to a 2016 report from the Texas Department of Transportation, nearly half of all truck freight in Texas goes through the I-45 corridor's 11 counties. In some spots, trucks make up more than one-fourth of the traffic in the corridor, which runs 276 miles from Galveston to where I-45 intersects with Interstate 20 in Dallas County, the TxDOT report says.

"The importance of the Iā€45 freight corridor to the movement of goods extends beyond Texas because much of the freight originating or passing through the corridor is destined to other domestic and international markets," the report says.

For now, Burnette says, two people are aboard each Kodiak truck traveling between Houston and Dallas ā€” a safety driver and a safety engineer.

"Dallas will be our home base for testing and operations for the foreseeable future," Burnette says. "Kodiak plans to continue refining and testing its trucks until the last truck-involved accident happens on public roads."

Kodiak's Dallas office, which opened in March, employs eight people. The company plans to relocate soon to new office space in the Dallas suburb of Lancaster, Burnette says.

At this time, Kodiak doesn't plan to hire any workers in Houston, he says.

From its base in the Dallas area, Kodiak envisions expanding its service to routes throughout Texas, but it's focusing solely on the Houston-to-Dallas route for the time being, Burnette says.

Kodiak picked Texas for its truck tests, in part, because of the "warm welcome" extended by Gov. Greg Abbott, TxDOT, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and other segments of the public sector, he says.

In addition, Burnette says, Kodiak chose Texas "because of its great people, freight-rich economy, reasonable regulatory structure, and robust infrastructure."

In 2017, Texas enacted laws enabling driverless vehicles, including long-haul trucks, to operate on the state's roads.

"Texas is a leader in the testing and implementation of connected and automated vehicles, and Kodiak's willingness to partner with academia and public agencies to ensure safe deployment of new technology will add significant value to our transportation system," Christopher Poe, assistant director of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, says in a release.

Burnette, co-founder of Otto Trucking LLC, a self-driving truck startup purchased in 2016 by Uber Technologies Inc., and fellow entrepreneur Paz Eshel established Kodiak in 2018 to "redefine" long-haul trucking through self-driving technology.

Kodiak says its autonomous technology is designed to ease pressures facing the trucking industry, including a shortage of drivers and high turnover among drivers, while improving highway safety, fostering business efficiency, reducing traffic congestion, and cutting down on harmful emissions.

"Long-haul trucking is primed for autonomous technology," Kodiak says in a post on Medium. "Highway driving is more structured and predictable than urban driving. This means there are fewer decisions for drivers to make and [it's] a better fit for autonomous vehicles."

"As hard as it is to navigate city streets, autonomous vehicles are much closer to being able to drive on more structured interstate highways, which have no jaywalking pedestrians, no aggressive cyclists, and no runaway pets," Kodiak adds. "That's why we've focused on building technology specifically for long-haul trucks driving on highway routes, often referred to as the 'middle mile.'"