Something to cluck about

Austin startup hatches self-driving robots for local Chick-fil-A delivery

Austin startup hatches self-driving robots to deliver Chick-fil-A

Refraction AI
Refraction AI is rolling out self-driving robots to deliver orders from two Chick-fil-A restaurants in Austin. Courtesy of Refraction AI

Why did the Chick-fil-A self-driving robot cross the road? To deliver your food.

Austin-based Refraction AI, a startup that specializes in automated delivery technology, is rolling out self-driving robots to deliver orders from two Chick-fil-A restaurants in Austin (600 Congress Ave. and 503 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.)

Refraction says its delivery robots travel along the sides of roads or in bike lanes, avoiding sidewalks and, of course, regular traffic lanes.

“Autonomous delivery using Refraction’s robots creates an exciting new opportunity to extend the Chick-fil-A experience to a growing number of delivery guests,” Luke Steigmeyer, operator of Chick-fil-A’s Congress Avenue location, says in a news release. “The platform will allow us to provide fast, high-quality, and cost-effective meal delivery within a mile radius of our restaurant, all while helping to keep the community we serve environmentally clean and safe.”

Chick-fil-A orders from the two Austin test sites will be carried in locked compartments aboard Refraction’s wheeled, box-shaped robots. When a robot arrives at a customer’s location, a text message supplies a code enabling the customer to unlock the compartment and retrieve their order.

After initial testing at the Congress Avenue restaurant, Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A and Refraction plan to add self-driving delivery robots at the Chick-fil-A location on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard starting in late June.

According to Restaurant Dive, Chick-fil-A tested autonomous delivery last year at three of its restaurants in Southern California. Those robots were made by a company called Kiwibot.

“Refraction’s robots could provide an advantage over bots like Kiwibot and Starship, which are smaller and tend to drive only on sidewalks,” Restaurant Dive says. “Refraction’s bots are bigger, faster and can reach larger suburban areas. They also can navigate through harsh weather conditions … .”

Refraction says its robots pick up goods from places like restaurants, pharmacies, and grocery stores and deliver them to customers’ homes, “enabling faster, cheaper, and safer delivery to meet … growing expectations.”