Your robot overlords are coming. But at least they're bringing pizza

When the robots finally come to unseat humanity as the rulers of this world, the news will be even worse than you thought. Oh, it all sounded pleasant enough when you first heard about it because they said they were bringing pizza. But then the awful truth was revealed: the pizza was from Domino’s. (Bloomberg)

Starship Technologies, the London-based company that has created six-wheeled self-driving delivery robots, will begin taking customers Domino’s pizzas in Germany and the Netherlands.

Starship, launched in July 2014 by two former Skype co-founders, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, will whisk pizzas to customers’ doors if they live within a one-mile radius of certain Dominos pizza shops in “select German and Dutch cities,” the company said in a statement.

Domino’s Pizza Enterprises Ltd., the world’s largest franchise licence owner of Domino’s Pizza, with operations in markets across Asia and Europe, has formed a group called Domino’s Robotic Unit to oversee the project.

How much of this is serious industry innovation and how much is just a gimmick? They do love some good marketing spin. Remember when they were going to deliver pizza by reindeer last year? Yeah… that didn’t work out at all and we wound up with this.

The reindeer turned out to be untrainable so they dressed up some scooters with antlers. But you won’t have that problem with robots. After all, they already did the first drone delivery of what they optimistically refer to as pizza in New Zealand.

But those are still mostly stunts. While it’s an amusing story which invites plenty of jokes, this is also yet another area where unskilled labor may, sooner or later, be largely replaced by automation. The fast food industry (including pizza delivery) has always been an early adopter of high tech innovation in this fashion and there’s no reason to think they would slow down now, particularly with minimum wage rates still rising. Generally the replacement, non-human work force has been inside the building, with kiosks and phone apps replacing the people processing the orders. Taking out the delivery drivers would take a lot more work and the technology may not really be there yet except in the most densely populated areas. (Even in the Netherlands and Germany they’re only going to be delivering one mile from the store.) But that doesn’t mean that it’s not coming.

Just over the span of my adult life we’ve seen changes in technology which were unimaginable for our parents. Robots have been welding cars together in Detroit for ages. They’ve taken over more factory jobs than have been outsourced in some market segments. So why couldn’t they eventually take over delivery services? We’re already on the verge of allowing robotic vehicles to drive people around, so the risk level would be far lower for pizza. And if you don’t live in the general vicinity of New York and New Jersey you probably won’t even realize that the pizza isn’t very good.