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Robots are taking to the streets as the demand for food delivery continues to grow

Robotic food delivery is no longer a sci-fi concept, but rather a reality. However, it is unlikely that you will see it in your immediate vicinity in the yet.

Numerous small robots, some of which are knee-high and capable of carrying four large pizzas, are now navigating college campuses and some city sidewalks across the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries. They are also being tested in China. While robots were being tested in small numbers prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, the companies developing them claim that labor shortages caused by the pandemic, as well as a growing preference for contactless delivery, have hastened the deployment of their technology.

In the last few years, we've seen an explosion in the demand for robots," said Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Starship Technologies, which recently delivered its two millionth robot. "I believe demand was always present, but it was accelerated as a result of the pandemic effect," says the author.

Starship now has a fleet of over 1,000 robots, an increase from just 250 in the beginning of the year. More than a thousand more will be deployed in the coming months. They currently deliver food to 20 campuses across the United States, with plans to expand to another 25 in the near future. Additionally, they operate on sidewalks in Milton Keynes, England; Modesto, California; and Tallin, Estonia, the company's home town, as well as other locations.

The designs of robots differ; some have four wheels, while others have six wheels. They do, however, rely on cameras, sensors, GPS, and, on rare occasions, laser scanners to navigate autonomously on sidewalks and even cross streets in urban environments. Approximately 5 miles per hour is the maximum speed at which they can travel.

While remote operators keep an eye on multiple robots at the same time, they report that they only need to apply the brakes or steer around obstacles on a rare occasion. The customer uses their phones to enter a code that unlocks the lid of the robot's container and retrieves their food when the robot arrives at its destination.

For the time being, the robots' capabilities are limited, which limits their usefulness. Due to the fact that they are electric, they must be recharged on a consistent basis. The majority of the time, they are slow and tend to confine themselves to a small, pre-mapped radius.

They are also unyielding in their beliefs. If a customer requests that food be left outside the door, a robot cannot comply with the request. And some of the world's most populous cities, such as New York, Beijing, and San Francisco, with their congested sidewalks, are not welcoming these newcomers at all.

Although robots do not make much sense on corporate or college campuses, according to Bill Ray of the consulting firm Gartner, they do make sense in newer communities with wide sidewalks and a low crime rate.

"Robot delivery will grow at a breakneck pace wherever it can be implemented," Ray predicted.

Despite the fact that there have been few reports of robot malfunctions, Ray stated that there have been an occasional gaggle of children surrounding one and attempting to confuse it. According to a wheelchair user who complained about a robot obstructing her access to a ramp at the University of Pittsburgh, Starship temporarily suspended service at the university in 2019. The university, on the other hand, stated that deliveries had resumed following the resolution of the problem by Starship.

Patrick Sheck, a junior at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, receives deliveries from a Starship robot as he leaves class three or four times a week, depending on the time of year.

In Sheck's words, "the robot arrives just as I'm about to finish my meal." Bowling Green and Starship charge $1.99 per robot delivery, plus a service fee, in addition to the cost of the robot.

Kiwibot, which has offices in Los Angeles and Medellin, Columbia, claims to have 400 robots delivering packages on college campuses and in downtown Miami, among other locations.

Aside from that, delivery services are entering the market. Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, recently announced a partnership with Russian robot manufacturer Yandex to deploy 50 robots on the university's campus to help with food delivery. When it comes to expanding its campus presence, Grubhub says it will do so in the near future, though it emphasizes that the service will remain restricted to colleges for the time being.

Deliveries orders in the United States increased by 66 percent in the fiscal year that ended in June, according to NPD, a data and consulting organization. And because customers have grown accustomed to the convenience of home delivery, it is possible that demand will continue to rise even after the pandemic has subsided.

Ji Hye Kim, the chef and managing partner of Miss Kim in Ann Arbor, Michigan, relied heavily on robot delivery last year when her restaurant was closed for renovations and remodeling. Kim had formed a partnership with Refraction AI, a local robotics company, just a few weeks before the outbreak began.

As opposed to third-party delivery services such as DoorDash, which charge significantly more and occasionally cancel orders due to a lack of drivers, Kim prefers robots to deliver her groceries. Aside from that, she explained that some delivery companies combine multiple orders per trip, resulting in food being delivered cold on occasion. At any given time, robots are programmed to take only one order.

Customers are enthusiastic about the robots, according to Kim, who says they frequently post videos of their interactions with them on social media.

"In addition to being adorable and novel, it was exempt from having to interact with humans. It was reassuring to hear "Kim made a statement. Although the demand for delivery has decreased since her dining room reopened, robots continue to deliver approximately ten orders per day, according to the owner.

In contrast to Kim's restaurant, which has maintained its staff throughout the pandemic, other establishments are having difficulty filling vacant positions. The National Restaurant Association recently conducted a poll in which 75 percent of restaurant owners in the United States stated that their most difficult challenge is recruiting and retaining employees.

As a result, many restaurants are turning to robot delivery to fill the void left by the lack of human delivery.

According to Dennis Maloney, senior vice president and chief digital officer at Domino's Pizza, "at the moment, no store in the country has enough delivery drivers."

It has partnered with Nuro, a California-based startup whose 6-foot-tall self-driving pods can travel at a top speed of 25 miles per hour on roads rather than sidewalks, according to the company. Currently, Nuro is implementing a pilot program in three cities: Houston; Phoenix; and Mountain View, California, with a focus on grocery and food deliveries.

When it comes to robot deliveries, Maloney believes that it is not a question of if, but when they will begin to replace humans. In the future, he believes, businesses such as Domino's will use a combination of robots and drivers, depending on where they are located. Aside from being useful on a military base, sidewalk robots such as Nuro are also useful in suburbs like Los Angeles. Highway driving would be carried out by human beings, according to the plan.

In his statement, Maloney stated that, while Nuro delivery is currently more expensive than using human drivers, costs will decrease as the technology grows in scale and refinement.

It's even easier to reduce the cost of human delivery by using less expensive sidewalk robots, which cost an estimated $5,000 or less per robot. In Ohio, according to Indeed.com, the average Grubhub driver earns $47,650 per year.

Robots, on the other hand, do not always eliminate the need for delivery personnel. In some cases, they have a hand in the creation of the object. Prior to the arrival of the Starship's robots, campus dining establishments did not provide delivery service to the general public. As a result, according to Bowling Green dining spokesman Jon Zachrich, the company has hired more than 30 people to act as runners between the kitchens and the robots.

Brendan Witcher, a technology analyst at the consulting firm Forrester, says it's natural to get excited about the prospect of robot delivery, which he compares to a Jetsons episode. Robots, on the other hand, will eventually have to demonstrate that they provide a competitive advantage in some way.

According to him, "it's possible that something else will emerge from all of this." The time and place are now ideal for businesses considering robots to put them through their paces, learn from them, and conduct their own evaluation, according to the authors.

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