By Tom Kaiser

Pizza Hut delivered a surprise at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show with the announcement that the pizza delivery giant has partnered with Toyota on the development of fully autonomous delivery vehicles.

Toyota unveiled designs of a self-driving concept vehicle called e-Palette at the show in Las Vegas. Pizza Hut is one of the founding members of a new “mobility service business alliance” that also includes Amazon, Didi, Mazda and Uber.

The announcement follows a number of initiatives from Pizza Hut to improve the delivery experience, including a new algorithm for accuracy and reliability of deliveries, new delivery pouches able to keep pizzas up to 15-degrees hotter and a pilot test of beer and wine delivery in the U.S.

The new mobility service business alliance will leverage Toyota’s proprietary Mobility Services Platform (MSPF) to develop a suite of connected mobility solutions and a flexible, purpose-built fully autonomous vehicle. The alliance will create a broad-based ecosystem of hardware and software support designed to help companies utilize advanced mobility technology to better serve customers. Toyota plans to implement testing of the e-Palette Vehicle Concept in several regions, including the U.S., as early as 2020.

For Pizza Hut, the e-Palette solution could support the company’s delivery business in the future or, given the flexibility of the e-Palette design, could even serve as a mobile kitchen.

Along with working together on autonomous delivery solutions, the companies will immediately begin working on plans to improve the existing driver/delivery ecosystem. Starting in early 2018, Pizza Hut and Toyota will jointly test dual communication technology in Pizza Hut delivery vehicles to capture data on driver patterns and behaviors. Better data will result in improved performance for both companies, optimize the safety of delivery, as well as enhance delivery operations.