Food on the Go

New robot food delivery rolls into popular Austin neighborhoods

New robot food delivery rolls into popular Austin neighborhoods

Robot food delivery device in Austin
South Congress and Travis Heights are in the robots' delivery areas. Photo courtesy of KVUE

KVUE — New semi-autonomous robots are taking over some streets of Austin to make food deliveries as the Capital City deals with rapid growth and congestion.

Refraction AI, a Michigan-based company, recently expanded in Austin, bringing 10 delivery machines to South Congress, Travis Heights, and some parts of downtown Austin.

“You don't need a 4,000-pound vehicle that has a lot of carbon emissions to bring you a pizza or a cheeseburger or something bigger,” said Luke Schneider, CEO of Refraction AI.

The company’s REV-1, a low-weight and low-power machine, uses cameras, lidar, radar, and ultrasound sensors to move around, similar to the technology used in autonomous vehicles. The robot travels up to 15 mph.

“It's cleaner,” Schneider said. “It helps us design our cities so that they're more walkable. It allows traffic to flow more freely. And in general, it's just a more efficient solution.”

Customers order food just like normal. If a restaurant is using the robots for delivery, it can send the coordinates to the robot and summon it for a pickup. The robot plots a route and drives to pick up the food before it’s loaded up by staff and sent to the customer’s delivery location, Schneider said.

A remote operator monitors the robot during the trip behind the scenes. During the initial phase while the robots learn the city, a human on an electric scooter follows behind it on the trip.

“In any new community where we arrive, it's always about safety first. And so we want to be sure that we've got really good control of them,” Schneider said. “They also are there primarily to observe robots as they interact both with restaurant personnel and consumers because it's something new. And you know that human to machine interface is something that over time takes refinement and development.”

Refraction AI put robots on the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in December 2019. Several restaurants are using the machines for food delivery there. Schneider called Austin an ideal place for expansion.

Currently, Southside Flying Pizza is the only restaurant using the robots for delivery, but the company said more restaurants are expected to come online very soon.

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