Food delivery robots, Many pizzas arrived at their doorsteps in September after customers from downtown Vancouver placed orders for Pizza Hut.
Diners were instead met by Angie or Hugo-autonomous robots, resembling a cooler with four wheels and eyelike lights. They traveled by sidewalk to customers. Customers used unique codes that opened their lids to reveal their food.
Serve Robotics is a spinoff from Uber’s 2020 food delivery acquisition Postmates. It offers a simple value proposition: With slim restaurant margins, a labor crunch, and climate change concerns, “why move a 2-pound burrito into a 2-ton car?”
A few robotic delivery companies share the same philosophy but face many roadblocks on their way to universality.
Some major cities, including Toronto, have banned delivery robots. They claim they are dangerous to people with low mobility and vision, seniors, children, and those with disabilities. Already, cyclists are unhappy about using e-scooters on bike lanes and do not want robots.
Prabhjot Gil, a McKinsey & Co. associate, said they draw a lot of attention from pedestrians on the sidewalk. “People are excited to see them, and they’re not seen as often, so they’re drawing a lot more attention.”
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Autonomous robots and ones manned overseas by staff will replace couriers.
Ali Kashani is a Vancouver-bred chief executive at Serve. He considers criticism to be part of innovation.
To calm concerns, he has made sure his robots (Kashani won’t tell how many) chimes in to let people know they are there. They have automatic crash prevention, vehicle collision avoidance, and emergency braking.
He believes they are a win-win situation for everyone because they reduce congestion, increase local commerce, and allow merchants to get food to customers at a lower price.
Serve is a new delivery vehicle that reduces the impact on the environment. Kashani estimates that roughly half of all deliveries in the country are less than 2.5 miles long and that 90 percent are made by car. People who use their cars to do local shopping or errands account for around 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Kashani stated that there are many reasons to replace cars with robots as fast as possible, but it’s not a reason to make anyone an adversary.
Serve understands the opposition to new ideas and is keen to get involved with authorities and governments before launching in any city.
David Lepofsky is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Alliance. He stated that such robots could not coexist with humans because they are a tripping hazard. Worse, they could also be used to transport contraband and explosives.
He insists that the struggle he and others waged to keep robots from walking on sidewalks is not an attack upon innovation.
He said, “It’s no way that we are denying anyone a service.” “We have a way to deliver pizzas that is better than any pizza delivery service we have had. It’s called “human beings.”
Pizza Hut Canada’s Chief Customer Officer Manish Dhankher said that while he agrees that no pizza delivery is worth putting someone’s safety at risk, his company only partnered up with Serve after the robots had completed thousands of safe trips.
Although serve robots could only deliver pizzas at Pizza Hut’s 1725 Robson St. address for two weeks, the pilot generated “childlike enthusiasm” from customers and achieved a 95% satisfaction rate.
Dhankher emphasizes that the goal is modernizing pizza delivery, not cost reduction. The number of deliveries made by couriers was the same as before robots were introduced.
Pizza Hut has yet to introduce robots permanently.
He said, “We want more.” “What happens when this is placed in the snowy Saskatchewan areas? What happens when it freezes?”
Another question is: What happens if cities don’t want robots in their city?
Tiny Mile, the company behind the pink, heart-eyed robots called Geoffrey, has the answer.
Geoffrey began making Toronto deliveries years ago for delivery services such as Foodora, Lepofsky, and others. He argued that people might be hindered by stalled or stopped devices or unable to detect their presence quickly.
In December, the Toronto city council voted to ban any device that runs on muscle power, except sidewalks, bike paths, and pedestrian ways. This will be until the province launches a pilot program for such devices.
Geoffrey was seen in Ottawa before the city confirmed that such robots aren’t allowed there. Tiny Mile left Canada entirely.
Tiny Mile’s chief executive, Ignacio Tartavull, said, “We almost went bankrupt.”
“It was a miracle that we survived.”
Tiny Mile traveled to Florida and North Carolina to keep Geoffrey alive.
Tartavull stated, “It was love at first sight.” “We spoke to cities, and they were trying to get us there.”
He believes adoration can spread as robot delivery costs- currently $1 – drop to 10 cents over the next seven years.
He said that although it will likely take some time before it is available in major cities, the long-term benefits are undeniable because technology is there. It works. We can deliver on schedule and at a lower cost.
Serve is currently focusing on Los Angeles, but Kashani stated its goal is to eliminate five percent of all delivery vehicles within five years.
“But I do hope these robots will be doing more local transport of goods if we fast-forward one or two decades… so that cars are no longer our only option.”