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In This City, You Can Get Food Delivered By a Robot

Thanks to the region's spirit of innovation, Ann Arbor is enjoying a taste of the future as friendly autonomous bots deliver takeout and groceries.

By Brittany Anas on December 29, 2021

A delivery bot in Ann Arbor, MI.
Refraction AI

The future of robot grocery and takeout delivery has arrived, and Ann Arbor – a region that’s pioneering autonomous and connected vehicle technology – is getting the first byte.

A couple of different robot delivery systems are revolutionizing food delivery in Ann Arbor, with the use of autonomous vehicles for the so-called “last mile” delivery, which is the term for a cost-effective and efficient way to move goods to their final destination.

In spring 2021, Yandex Rover robots launched a food delivery service in downtown, with plans to gradually expand to other parts of the city. The Rovers are powered with the same technology as the company’s self-driving cars, and they’re capable of navigating sidewalks in various weather conditions.

Another company, Refraction AI, has developed a fleet of lightweight, self-driving REV-1 robots that can safely zip about in bike or traffic lanes, and are capable of withstanding harsh winter conditions.

Take a Byte Out of the Future

Friendly neighborhood robots deliver Ann Arbor residents takeout from some of the city’s best restaurants, whether that’s a famous Reuben from Zingerman’s Delicatessen or tasty Korean fried chicken from Miss Kim. So far, Refraction AI has teamed up with a dozen local businesses, including The Produce Station for grocery delivery, and continues to grow its partnerships.

Ann Arbor has been a test city for takeout and delivery via robot, a service that’s poised for tremendous growth. The food delivery industry is expanding into a $100 billion sector, with the autonomous delivery segment expected to grow from $11.2 billion in 2021 to more than $85 billion in 2030, explains Luke Schneider, CEO of Refraction AI.

“The robots we’ve built are inexpensive and environmentally friendly, which allows us to operate with a model that’s affordable for both businesses and consumers, all while doing our part to reduce carbon emissions and traffic and create more walkable, breathable cities,” Schneider says.

In the last year, Refraction AI has been installing UV lights in its robots to disinfect the compartment and the packaging inside, ensuring safe delivery.

How Does Robot Delivery Work?

After placing an order with Refraction AI’s REV-1 robots, customers receive a text message with a unique code to open the robot when it arrives, with delivery updates throughout the process, Schneider says.

When the REV-1 arrives at its destination, the customer is notified to meet the robot at the curb and grab their goods by inputting the unique code they received.

“By 2030, we envision robotic delivery being an everyday part of life and our robots being the de facto standard for it,” Schneider says.

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