Delivery robots are coming to Austin. Food delivery service company Refraction AI’s REV-1 robots — small electric-run machines that operate autonomously — are delivering orders from local pizzeria mini-chain Southside Flying Pizza throughout downtown Austin, Travis Heights, and along South Congress Avenue as of today, June 14.
CEO Luke Schnieder tells Eater that the company decided to expand to the Texas city because “the vast array of food and retail options that are woven into Austin’s unique neighborhoods — especially South Congress — align with our vision for last-minute delivery and make automated delivery an easy, convenient, affordable option.”
The way the REV-1 robot deliveries will work is as follows:
- People who live in the downtown, Travis Heights, and South Congress areas place delivery orders through Southside Flying Pizza’s website from the East Cesar Chavez location.
- The restaurant places the prepared food order into the robot, and it travels from the curb of the restaurant to the curb of the delivery address.
- As that happens, the customer receives text message updates on the location of the delivery, as well as a code to access their order.
- When the robot arrives at the curb of the destination, the person has to go outside, enter their code onto the touchscreen pad, and open the robot to receive their order.
The REV-1 delivery robots travel in bike lanes — which means cyclists will have to contend with the vehicles — and can also use sidewalks and actual streets when needed. Schnieder notes that the delivery robots “are required by state law to yield the right of way to all traffic, including bicycles and people on foot.” A rep for the company confirms that, since this Austin launch is considered a pilot program, each robot will be accompanied by a person on a scooter and that there are remote people who watch over the deliveries.
The physical machines are described as being “about the same size as a person on a bike” in the press release, measuring four and a half feet in both height and length, 30 inches in width, and 150 pounds in weight. The vehicles can travel up to 15 miles per hour, and hold the equivalent of six grocery bags.
One of the goals of the program is to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the city. Gina Fiandaca, the Austin assistant city manager for mobility, expressed her excitement in the release, because of how it emphasizes both sustainability and equity.
For now, REV-1’s initial Austin program consists of 10 robots, but there are plans to increase the number of machines as more restaurants, shops, and groceries join the service.
Refraction AI began in July 2019 by co-founders Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan. They launched the first REV-1 delivery program in Ann Arbor, Michigan that November. Other cities have been implementing their own autonomous robot deliveries, including Houston with Chartwells Higher Education and Starship, and Miami with Reef Technology and Cartken.