A lot of work in autonomous robots is done in places like Scottsdale, Houston and the Bay Area. What places like Scottsdale, Houston and the Bay Area have in common is that they have mild-to-nonexistant winters. But up north in Michigan and Wisconsin, where it’s already snowing, autonomous delivery bots from Refraction AI and Starship are being put to the test.
…Refraction AI combines software and hardware to battle bad weather. 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.”
But it’s one thing to describe how a robot will work in inclement weather; it’s another to see it in action. Thankfully, the folks at Refraction shot a video of its robot on a snow-covered road a couple of weeks back and shared it with The Spoon. Check it out:
While that video doesn’t show it taking turns or hills, or having to deal with traffic, it certainly looks like the REV-1 can handle slushy conditions. Which is actually good news all around. Barring the arrival of a blizzard, hungry folks can order meals for delivery guilt-free because they aren’t forcing someone to drive or ride in the snow, and restaurants can still earn delivery revenue when the weather turns.
Elsewhere in the midwest, the students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are just now learning whether or not that town’s snowy weather will keep the newly arrived Starship robots from making food deliveries. The Wisconsin State Journal’s Just Ask Us section fielded this question this week: Will UW-Madison’s food delivery robots get stuck in the snow?
The answer was pretty straightforward and filled with the type of common sense you’d expect from a Midwesterner:
On days when there are blizzards or icy conditions that would make the sidewalks unnavigable for people, the delivery robots will not operate. When students go on the app to order food, it would show that the marketplaces are closed
A spokesperson for the university goes on to say that since the robots were designed with a low-profile and traction tires that could handle Estonian weather, they should be able to handle a Wisconsin winter. (If you go to UWM, send us a photo or video of the robot in snowy action).
The weather outside may be frightful, but putting robots through these harsh weather paces means that they’ll be available in more places beyond Houston, Phoenix and the Bay Area in the near future.