Given that we’ve already seen Refraction AI‘s REV-1 autonomous delivery vehicle tackle the snow covered roads of Ann Arbor, MI, it’s not really a surprise that the company announced today — in the middle of December — that it will start delivering lunches to people who don’t want to brave the cold.
Refraction will now provide food delivery for customers within a 2.5 mile zone. Local restaurants Miss Kim, Belly Deli, Tios Mexican Cafe and Chow ow Asian Street Food are participating. To sign up for the service, hungry people can fill out this form, after which they will receive instructions on how to place their order. Once done, they will receive a unique code and delivery updates. When the self-driving REV-1 arrives outside the destination, the customer is notified to meet the robot at the curb and enter the unique code to grab their food.
Normally we wouldn’t cover such a local story, but this is the first delivery partner announcement from Refraction since the company launched this past summer. Additionally, the REV-1 is different from other autonomous delivery vehicles that are starting to come to market.
The REV-1 is a three-wheeled robot sits somewhere between the bigger pod-like autonomous vehicles Nuro makes and the smaller, cooler sized robots from Starship and Kiwi. This “Goldilocks” type size means it can travel in a road’s bike lane, making it an compelling mode of delivery for both urban and suburban areas.
Plus, as noted above, the REV-1 was built to be rugged and able to travel in inclement weather. As we wrote previously:
First is the environmental scanning provided by a 12-camera setup as well as ultrasound and radar sensors on the REV-1. To make the robot less expensive, the REV-1 foregoes the LIDAR systems popular with other autonomous robots. And according to Johnson-Roberson, Refraction AI’s camera rig also allows the robot to track things not on the ground like buildings and cars to navigate even when road lines are not visible. The other way the REV-1 takes on bad weather is rather low tech. “We’re using fat bike tires a low PSI so they are squishy,” said Johnson-Roberson. “They can run in snow and rain.”
Robots are (slowly) moving from the testing phase to the market stage. Nuro just announced this week that it will be testing grocery delivery with Walmart in Houston. Postmates’ Serve is scurrying around making deliveries in Los Angeles. Starship’s robots are now roaming around multiple college campuses across the country. Kiwi announced its own reinvention last week.
Ultimately, food delivery from restaurants and grocery stores will require a number of different styles of vehicles. With its unique shape, the REV-1 looks like its ready to carve out its own (bike) lane.