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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

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The promotion of drones helps the city of Houston transition to becoming the energy 2.0 capital of the world, says this expert. Photo courtesy

The state of Texas, as well as the rest of the nation, has been intensely impacted by the effects of climate change as well as aging utility infrastructure. Innovative drone technologies help address the pressing inspection and mapping needs of utilities and other critical infrastructure across the country, primarily bridges and roads, railways, pipelines, and powerplants.

There is a significant need for high-precision inspection services in today's market. Additional work will result if the proposed infrastructure bill passes. The bill has $73 billion earmarked toward modernizing the nation's electricity grid. Drone —or UAS (unmanned aerial systems)— technological advances, including thermal imaging, LiDAR (light detection and ranging), IRR (infrared radiation and remote sensing), and AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) are applied toward determining and predicting trends and are instrumental toward making our country safer.

"The newest advances in drone technology are not so much in the drones themselves, but rather, in the sensors and cameras, such as thermal cameras. Technologies such as LiDAR are now more cost-effective. The newer sensors permit the drones to operate in tighter spaces and cover more acreage in less time, with higher accuracy and fidelity", according to Will Paden, president of Soaring Eagle Technologies, a Houston-based tech-enabled imaging company servicing utility and energy companies.

Paden anticipates growth in the use of the technology for critical infrastructure including utilities, pipelines, power plants, bridges, buildings, railways, and more, for routine and post-storm inspections

"[Soaring Eagle's] ability to harness UAS technology to efficiently retrieve field data across our 8,000+ square mile area is unprecedented. Coupling this data with post-processing methods such as asset digitization unlocked a plethora of opportunities to visualize system resources and further analyze the surrounding terrain and environment," says Paige Richardson, GIS specialist with Navopache Electric Cooperative. "Our engineering and operations departments now have the ability to view 3D substation models, abstract high-resolution digital evaluation models, and apply these newfound resources as they work on future construction projects."

The promotion of drones helps the city of Houston transition to becoming the energy 2.0 capital of the world. The UAS (unmanned aerial systems) technology offers an environmentally cleaner option for routine and post-storm inspections, replacing the use of fossil fuels consumed by helicopters. The use of drones versus traditional inspection systems is significantly safer, more efficient and accurate than traditional alternatives such as scaffolding or bucket trucks. Mapping and inspection work can be done at much lower costs than with manned aircraft operations. These are highly technical flights, where the focus on safety and experience flying both manned and unmanned aircraft, is paramount.

There is much work ahead in high-tech drone technology services, especially for companies vetted by the FAA with high safety standards. According to one study, the overall drone inspection & monitoring market is projected to grow from USD 9.1 billion in 2021 to USD 33.6 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 15.7 percent from 2021 to 2030. North America is estimated to account for the largest share of the drone inspection & monitoring market from 2021 to 2030.

Paden predicts the use of machine learning/artificial intelligence (ML/AI) and data automation will continue to improve over the next 3-5 years, as more data is collected and analyzed and the technology is a applied to "teach it" to detect patterns and anomalies. He anticipates ML/AI will filter out the amount of data the end users will need to view to make decisions saving time and money for the end users.

Learn more at the Energy Drone & Robotics Summit taking place in The Woodlands on October 25 through October 27.

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Alex Danielides is head of business development for Houston-based Iapetus Holdings, a privately held, minority and veteran-owned portfolio of energy and utility services businesses. One of the companies is Soaring Eagle Technologies.

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