Food delivery robots hit Canadian sidewalks – but with barriers – National

When customers are in the city center Vancouver ordered with Pizza Hut in September, many cakes arrived at their doorstep without courier.

Instead, diners get to meet Angie, Hugo or Raja– autonomous robot like a cooler on four wheels with lights like eyes. They move on the sidewalk to customers, who use unique codes to open lids and reveal their food.

The value proposition for Serve Robotics—a spin-off of Uber Postmates’ 2020 food delivery service acquisition that spawned a trio and a fleet of zero-emissions robots—is simple: with thin restaurant margins. , the labor crisis and the fear of climate change ‘“why move two-pound burrito in a two-ton car?

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A handful of other robotic delivery companies have similar characteristics, but their path to popularity is fraught with a number of hurdles.

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Delivery robots have been banned in some major cities like Toronto, where it is deemed a danger to people with poor eyesight or mobility, as well as the elderly and children. Cyclists have complained about e-scooters in bike lanes and don’t want robots there either.

“They are attracting a lot of attention from pedestrians when they are walking on the sidewalk because they are not seen very often and people are excited to see them, but as usage continues to increase, this is not the case. This can cause a lot of congestion on already tight sidewalks,” said Prabhjot Gill, an associate partner at McKinsey & Co. focus on the retail sector said.

There are also worries about automated robots or robots controlled by overseas employees taking away the jobs of couriers.

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Ali Kashani, Serve’s original Vancouver executive, sees criticism as a natural part of the innovation that even bicycles undergo, when it was invented and many thought it would spark. divorce.

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He has tried to allay concerns by making sure his robots (Kashani won’t say how many) chime and flash lights to warn those around him. They are equipped with automatic collision prevention, vehicle collision avoidance and emergency braking.

Ultimately, he thinks they are “win-win” because they reduce traffic, boost local commerce, and help sellers get food to consumers in a less expensive way.

The environment also benefits as Catering replaces delivery vehicles. Kashani estimates that about half of deliveries made in the country include less than 2.5 miles, and 90 percent are completed by car. About two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are caused by people using personal cars for shopping and local errands.

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“There are plenty of reasons to replace our cars with these robots as quickly as possible, but there is no reason for us to make anyone an enemy,” Kashani said.

Knowing how much resistance new ideas can face, Serve carefully engages with governments and authorities before rolling out in a city, even if the city doesn’t have legislation to allow it. or ban robots.

However, David Lepofsky, president of the Ontario Disability Act Coalition, said there is no way for such robots and humans to co-exist as there is always the potential for tripping and falling. Worse, they can be used to transport contraband or explosives.

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He insists the fight he and others have waged to keep robots off the sidewalk is not an attack on innovation.

“It’s not that we’re turning people down,” he said. “We have a way to deliver pizza that we’ve had since we had pizza delivery. It’s called human.”

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Manish Dhankher, customer manager for Pizza Hut Canada, agrees that pizza delivery isn’t worth risking someone’s safety, but said his company only works with Serve once the robot has done the delivery. thousand trips without injury.

The service robot only makes nearby deliveries to the 1725 Robson St. of Pizza Hut for two weeks, but the pilot generated “childlike excitement” from customers and had a 95% satisfaction rate.

Dhankher emphasizes the goal is to modernize pizza delivery, not reduce costs. The couriers made the same amount of deliveries they did before the robot was used.

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But Pizza Hut isn’t ready to deploy the robot permanently.

“We wanted to learn more,” he said. “What happens when you put this in the snowy parts of Saskatchewan and what happens when there is cold rain?”

Another question: what happens when cities don’t welcome robots?

Tiny Mile, the company behind a series of pink, heart-eyed robots called Geoffrey, knows the answer.

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Years after Geoffrey started delivering in Toronto for delivery services like Foodora, Lepofsky and others suggested that people could be plagued by equipment that stopped or hung or couldn’t quickly be detected. their presence.

Toronto City Council voted last December to ban devices powered by anything but muscular strength on sidewalks, bike paths and pedestrian crossings until the province conduct a pilot project for such devices.

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Geoffrey was later discovered in Ottawa before the city confirmed such cyborgs were not allowed there and Tiny Mile left Canada altogether.

“We almost went bankrupt,” said Ignacio Tartavull, chief executive officer of Tiny Mile.

“It’s basically a miracle that we survived.”

To keep Geoffrey alive, Tiny Mile headed to Florida and North Carolina.

“It’s love at lightning,” said Tartavull. “We’ve talked to the cities and they’re basically competing for us to get there.”

He believes the cult will spread as the cost of robot delivery — currently around $1 — drops to 10 cents in the next seven years.

“It may take a few years before we are in the big cities but in the long run that is no doubt because the technology is here, it works and we can deliver the goods right.” term at a much lower cost,” he said.

As for Serve, it’s focused on Los Angeles for now, but Kashani said its mission is to eliminate 5% of delivery vehicles on the road in the next five years.

“But I certainly hope that if you fast-forward a decade or two, these robots will deliver more locally… so we can’t depend on cars.”

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 4, 2022.


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