Refraction AI, which makes the three-wheeled autonomous REV-1 delivery vehicle, announced today that it is expanding beyond restaurant meals and into grocery delivery.
The company’s robots are delivering around a three-mile radius in Ann Arbor, MI, and today’s announcement is basically an official unveiling of a program that the company has been testing for months.
If you are in the Ann Arbor delivery and want to check out the delivery service, visit this site that Refraction has created. The company is working with a local grocer called The Produce Station, and it looks like the process is a little kludgey right now. Customers need to visit Produce Station’s Mercato store to see what items are available, and then manually enter the items they want into special form on Refraction’s site. The robot is then dispacted to the store where staffers pack the items into the vehicle before it drivers itself to the delivery location.
It’s understandable that Refraction’s process might not be the smoothest. After all, the company is in the robot business, not the e-commerce business. But it makes me wonder how how the company will connect consumers and robots as it grows beyond Ann Arbor? Will restaurants and grocers have their own REV-1s running back and forth? Or will a third-party delivery service like DoorDash have a fleet of them deployed to make deliveries? Or will it be a combination of both?
Autonomous robot deliveries are attracting more attention during this COVID-19 pandemic as they can reduce human-to-human interactions and, hopefully, human-to-human viral transmission.
Refraction’s REV-1 is a Goldilocks robot, in that its size is right in between the small cooler-sized rover bots of Starship and the big pod-like vehicles of Nuro. This sweet spot of a size, plus the REV-1’s ability to handle inclement weather was one of the reasons we named Refraction AI to our 2020 Food Tech 25 list of innovative companies.