Last Mile Robot Launches Snowy Pilot to Take Over Food Delivery Market
Sun, April 18, 2021

Last Mile Robot Launches Snowy Pilot to Take Over Food Delivery Market

Refraction AI robots have been deployed to deliver food to customers / Photo Credit: Es sarawuth (via Shutterstock)


Refraction AI robots have been deployed on the snowy streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan to launch their own online food delivery service, said Martine Paris of business news Forbes. The company's founders, Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan, cheer the robot through their teleoperated control room as they eye on the prize of addressing the logistics problem of the soon-to-be $200 billion online food delivery market. 

Johnson-Roberson met Vasudevan when the latter joined the University of Michigan faculty, coaxing him to be his roommate. Vasudevan did not want to live with Johnson-Roberson but they became fast friends and have been working together since then. Refraction AI was born of the frustration of waiting for the industry launch robo taxis to the market. In the first few years, their robot was bootstrapped and built in Johnson-Roberson’s garage. This March, the pair raised $2.5 million from eLabVentures and Trucks Venture Capital. They launched their first pilot on December 12, with over 250 people signing up for deliveries, five restaurant partners, and 15 full-time employees. The duo also have five vehicles, closing in at 12 or 15 by the end of February. 

When asked about Refraction AI’s journey, Johnson-Roberson said an order is placed and the robot leaves the depot from the firm’s downtown Ann Arbor offices through big roller doors. The robot goes down an alley and moves to the restaurant. A Refraction tablet will be seen alongside DoorDash and GrubHub’s tablets at the establishment. When the order is processed, the food is prepared and the tablet informs the restaurant when the robot has arrived. The staff will place the food package in the robot, delivering it to the customer’s house. The unit will text the customer who will then specify where the package will be placed. 

En route to the destination, complex crossings and known hazardous conditions are micro-geofenced. A teleoperator is signaled to take over as the unit approaches. Retraction AI uses a multiple modem system to ensure that communication is maintained with the robot even when there’s congestion. Customers are charged $2 to $2.50 per delivery, which is less than the $11 to $12 human delivery.