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Chick-fil-A is experimenting with autonomous-delivery at two restaurants in downtown Austin, Texas, through a partnership with robot-as-a-service (RaaS) provider Refraction AI.
The RaaS startup’s REF-1 robots use self-driving technology and tele-operations to provide last-mile delivery and are already serving independent restaurants in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Austin. The vehicles hit something of a sweet spot in the self-driving sphere: They are lightweight and low-power enough to qualify under e-bike regulations but fast and nimble enough to operate in car lanes without impeding traffic, Refraction said.
The REF-1s spend most of their travel time on road shoulders or in bike lanes, using AI and depth-perception cameras to navigate traffic patterns, pedestrians and other obstacles at speeds of up to 15 mph. During the test period in Austin, they will be followed by “safety chasers” who will provide assistance when needed, answer customer questions and help improve the experience, Chick-fil-A said.
Customers ordering from within a mile of the restaurants will be eligible for delivery from the robots, which transport the food in insulated compartments to keep it warm. Customers can track their orders via an app and are alerted by text when the meal arrives.
The Refraction robots are already operating at the Chick-fil-A restaurant at 6th and Congress in Austin. The pilot program is slated to expand to the chain’s location on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in late June.
“Autonomous delivery using Refraction’s robots creates an exciting new opportunity to extend the Chick-fil-A experience to a growing number of delivery guests,” said Luke Steigmeyer, operator of the 6th and Congress location. “The platform will allow us to provide fast, high quality and cost-effective meal delivery within a mile radius of our restaurant, all while helping to keep the community we serve environmentally clean and safe.”
Besides Texas, Chick-fil-A plans to operate the autonomous delivery pilot in California and Florida. No word on whether the famously observant eatery will let the robots work Sundays.