Pizza Pie-oneers: Mcity and Pizza Hut join forces to jumpstart the future of pizza delivery

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 - 12:15am

Many have hailed Mcity, the University of Michigan’s self-driving car site, as the first of its kind in accelerating the global autonomous vehicle technology. In the last year, though, the campus has played host to far saucier competition: The future of pizza delivery.    

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda announced Monday the Japanese car company will begin testing self-driving vehicles at Mcity in partnership with Uber, Amazon and Pizza Hut. The class of vehicles dubbed “e-Palette,” according to Wired, will serve as a “mobile hub for services from medical clinics to entertainment and festivals.”

Vehicles will be electric and fully self-driving, with some types large enough to even contain small businesses. The announcement marks a shift from driving technology-focused development to business strategies that can measure— quite literally — deliverable gains. Toyoda projected the concept vehicles would hit testing grounds by 2020.

“With Toyota, we are excited to be partnering with an undisputed leader in human mobility with a reputation for innovation, reliability and efficiency, as we define the pizza delivery experience of the future,” Artie Starrs, president of Pizza Hut U.S., said in a statement. “We are focused on technology-based solutions that enable our team members and drivers to deliver even better customer experiences.”

Flavor considerations aside, Pizza Hut isn’t too far behind Domino’s Pizza. The Ann Arbor-based competitor announced a similar partnership with Ford last August. The companies’ most pressing questions included how customers would react to having to leave their homes to retrieve their pizza orders.

Mcity researchers made their own headlines earlier this week with the release of three potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities in self-driving vehicles. From hacked technology to ransoms, a Mcity report detailed the ways in which self-driving cars could be subject to security threats — and how Mcity plans to tackle them.

According to Andre Weimerskirch, lead author of the report, who leads Mcity’s cybersecurity working group and is also vice president of cybersecurity for Lear Corp, the scientific and business communities have not been paying enough attention to cybersecurity within the realm of self-driving cars.

“Cybersecurity is an overlooked area of research in the development of autonomous vehicles,” Weimerskirch said to Michigan News. “Our tool marks not only an important early step in solving these problems, but also presents a blueprint to effectively identify and analyze cybersecurity threats and create effective approaches to make autonomous vehicle systems safe and secure.”

In their report, the researchers examine the potential threats involved in automated parking. According to the press release, the most likely attacks are a mechanic disabling the range sensors in park-assist or remote parking in order to require additional maintenance for which a driver would have to pay, and an expert hacker sending a false signal to your vehicle's receiver to turn off remote parking. Both of these vulnerabilities were given a six out of 10 on a scale the researchers created, with zero being the lowest probability. Receiving a seven on the scale is the threat of a knowledgeable thief upsetting your remote parking signal in order to steal your car.

“Without robust, fool-proof cybersecurity for autonomous vehicles, systems and infrastructure, a viable, mass market for these vehicles simply won't come into being,” said Huei Peng, Mcity director and the Roger L. McCarthy professor of mechanical engineering. “Funding this kind of research is a critical part of Mcity's mission to help break down barriers to widespread deployment of connected and automated vehicle technology.”