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Tech Tracker: Pizza Hut to test autonomous cart delivery

Tech Tracker: Pizza Hut to test autonomous cart delivery

McDonald’s operators to test “gig” delivery drivers with ShiftPixy

Editor’s Note: Tech Tracker looks at different technologies that are disrupting the industry and changing the way restaurants operate and interact with customers.

Pizza delivery by bot cart

Pizza Hut, a brand with an image problem when it comes to delivery, has teamed up with FedEx Corp. on a delivery test using autonomous carts.

The Plano, Texas-based chain joins retailers Walmart, Target and Walgreens who are planning to launch an experiment later this year using FedEx SameDay Bot. The autonomous rover is designed to travel on sidewalks, bumpy roads and steps.   

FedEx’s zero-emission, battery-powered bot was created in partnership with the inventor of the Segway. In a demonstration video, the bot looks like a large ice chest on wheels. It travels in a neighborhood easily maneuvering through water drenched sidewalks and adjusting speed and direction to avoid obstacles.

Pizza Hut plans to test the bot this summer in Memphis, Tenn. 

Nicolas Burquier, chief customer and operations officer at Pizza Hut’s U.S. division, said the bot experiment with FedEx is part of the chain’s strategy to provide tech-driven experiences for customers.

“Testing of the SameDay Bot with FedEx is just one more way we're looking to the future of delivery at Pizza Hut,” he said in a statement.

Last year, Pizza Hut introduced an automated kitchen that operates on a zero-emissions truck. The division of Yum Brands has not provided a timeline for when the automated pizza factory would hit the road.

FedEx’s bot is equipped with pedestrian-safe technology and multiple cameras, allowing it to be aware of its surroundings.

When the bot reaches its destination, two cabinet doors automatically swing open for customers to fetch their items, which can range from hot pizzas to prescriptions.

Brie Carere, chief marketing and communications officer for FedEx, said the SameDay Bot was developed to “redefine” local delivery in a cost-effective way for brands.

Autonomous rovers built for last-mile delivery are taking hold in the competitive space. As previously reported in Tech Tracker, Postmates plans to deploy Serve, an autonomous delivery rover designed to move around sidewalks, instead of roads. It is expected to debut for test in the Los Angeles market later this year.

Disrupting the delivery disruptors

ShiftPixy, which matches employers with a pool of trained “gig” workers, is expanding its business model to include delivery drivers.

The move could be a new disruption in the industry as ShiftPixy aims to offer restaurants an alternative to margin hurting third-party operators.

CEO Scott Absher said restaurants working with third-party delivery companies give up their brand by having a non-employee deliver their food.

His company is now adding insured “gig economy” workers who have been cross-trained as delivery drivers. The workers could be flipping burgers for a few hours, then delivering meals later in a shift, he said.

Irvine, Calif.-based ShiftPixy, a modern-day temp agency, hires and trains workers who have experience working in various industries including restaurants.  The workers, who are paid by ShiftPixy, check the ShiftPixy app for available “gigs.”

A food delivery driver will be a new option.

ShiftPixy plans to test the cross-trained employees with a few McDonald’s operators in the coming weeks, Absher said.

Absher said his gig workforce allows restaurants to maintain their image by not surrendering their brand and data to “a kid in a red golf shirt and cap.”

The fact that a McDonald’s operator is involved in early phase testing with ShiftPixy is not surprising. In recent survey by an independent franchisee group, formed last year to represent their concerns with the Chicago-based company, a majority said they would like to work with other delivery companies to see if they can cut a better deal. Third-party rates can range between 20 percent and 30 percent.

Currently, McDonald’s works with Uber Eats.

Delivery race: How the leaders stack up

The three biggest third-party delivery operators are Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats.

Of the three, DoorDash is growing the fastest in terms of sales. DoorDash surpassed Uber Eats in sales in November 2018, according Second Measure, a firm that analyzes U.S. consumer spending.  

DoorDash recently received $400 million in financing, bringing the company’s valuation to $7.1 billion. The investment will enable the San Francisco-based company to expand its footprint, DoorDash said. It currently reaches 150 million consumers in 50 states.

Still, Grubhub dominates on market share.

In January 2019, Grubhub owned 43% of the market, DoorDash 31% and Uber Eats 26%, according to Second Measure.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @FastFoodMaven 

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