Ten silver robots shaped like ice cream carts are bringing Southside Flying Pizza to hungry Austinites in Travis Heights and the Central Business District, providing a preview into humanity’s more automated future.
The business behind the three-wheeled vehicles hopes to dramatically expand its fleet and be a part of a technological revolution in how customers get their deliveries.
“Robots are your pals,” said Luke Schneider, CEO of Refraction AI in Michigan. “Robots are going to make your life easier. They will make your city more sustainable, and they will improve your life.”
The battery-powered REV-1s can travel up to 15 mph and recognize traffic lights and signs. They don’t travel as quickly as a delivery worker in a car, but Refraction AI claims they can take more efficient routes through traffic and don’t need to seek parking. The REV-1 can climb slopes, but if you live on the third story, you’ll have to stroll downstairs to get your pie.
When compared to bicycle delivery, multiple REV-1s may be remotely monitored by a single person with a solid internet connection, lowering labor expenses. If a hands-on operation is required, that individual can step in.
REV-1 will take up bike lanes
For the time being, an attendant follows on an electric scooter. The attendant will be obsolete once the robot’s artificial intelligence learns to traverse Austin’s streets.
When it was revealed that the REV-1 will take up bike lanes, some people expressed their displeasure on social media. A resolution passed by the Austin City Council in 2017 would have barred delivery robots from utilizing bike lanes, forcing them to use sidewalks. However, it was overturned by a state statute passed by the Texas Legislature in 2019 that allows the robots to utilize the roadside, including bicycle lanes.
“I may look at it one way and say, ‘Oh, this is just another obstruction in the bike lanes,'” said Colin Allen, a University of Pittsburgh professor who penned a book about teaching robots right from wrong. “But then I may reply, ‘It’s just another impediment in a bike lane; why should I have to put up with this?'”