When customers in downtown Vancouver placed orders with Pizza Hut in September, many of the pies landed on their doorsteps without a courier in sight.
Instead, diners were met by Angie, Hugo or Raja– autonomous robots resembling a cooler on four wheels with eyelike lights. They travelled by sidewalk to customers, who used unique codes to open their lids and reveal their food.
The value proposition for Serve Robotics– a spinoff of Uber’s 2020 food delivery acquisition Postmates that created the trio and a fleet of zero-emission robots– is simple: with slim restaurant margins, a labour crunch and climate change worries ‘“why move a two-pound burrito in a two-ton car?”
A handful of other robotic delivery companies have the same ethos, but their paths to ubiquity are facing several roadblocks.
Delivery robots have been banned from some major cities like Toronto, which argued they are a hazard for people with low mobility or vision, as well as seniors and children. Cyclists already gripe about e-scooters in bike lanes and don’t want robots there either.
“They’re drawing a lot of attention from pedestrians while they’re out on the sidewalk because they’re not seeing them that often and people are excited to see them, but as usage continues to increase, this can cause a lot of congestion on already narrow sidewalks,” said Prabhjot Gill, a McKinsey & Co. associate partner focused on retail.
There’s also worries autonomous robots or ones manned by staff overseas will take jobs away from couriers.
Ali Kashani, Serve’s Vancouver-bred chief executive, considers the criticism to be a natural part of innovation that even the bicycle experienced, when it was invented and many thought it would cause divorce.
He’s tried to quiet concerns by ensuring his robots (Kashani won’t say how many there are) chime and flash their lights to alert people they are around. They are equipped with automatic crash prevention, vehicle collision avoidance and emergency braking.
Ultimately, he thinks they are “a win-win for everybody” because they reduce traffic, boost local commerce and help merchants get food to consumers in a less expensive way.
The environment benefits too because Serve replaces delivery vehicles. Kashani estimates roughly half the deliveries made in the country cover less than 2.5 miles and 90 per cent are completed by car. About two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are attributable to people using personal cars for local shopping and errands.
News source : Global News