Washington Restaurant Market Watch: The Robots are Coming! The Robots are Coming!

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: The Robots are Coming! The Robots are Coming! https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/robots071416b.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

The future is here.

If you’re in Washington D.C., or London, don’t be shocked if your next takeaway meal is delivered to your door by a robot.

In June, Starship Technologies, an Estonia-based company that created a cute, little six-wheeled delivery robot that looks like it might have rolled off the Star Wars movie set, received approval from the District of Columbia Department of Transportation to begin testing a delivery service as early as September 15. The tests will last until Dec. 31, 2017.

Meanwhile, across the pond in London, Just Eat, Europe’s largest online takeaway food company, is partnering with Starship to deliver food on London’s streets using half a dozen droids.

“Nobody has ever done deliveries with land-based robots,” Allan Martinson, Starship’s COO told the Daily Telegraph.

The robots are six-wheel automated trolleys with maximum speeds of 4 mph for approximately 10 miles. The droids use GPS signals and nine cameras to navigate and avoid obstacles. They are capable of carrying up to 10 kilograms or the equivalent of three shopping bags at a time.

Customers receive a notification on their phone telling that a robot is on its way and providing a code to unlock the automated courier when it arrives.

“Put the code in, the robot opens up, and there’s your food,” said David Buttress, Just Eat’s chief executive told the Daily Telegraph.

And don’t even think of trying to steal or interfere with one of these droids.

With its cameras in addition to two way audio, the robots have movement sensors that send alerts if they are lifted off the ground. And the use of the passcode prevents thievery of the meals these droids carry.

“It’s much easier to shoplift than it is to steal a robot,” said Martinson.

Costing only £1 to transport within a three mile radius, in comparison to the £3 to £6 costs for a human courier, in the U.K., robot delivery is potentially a great deal for consumers and also one for restaurants since they won’t have to worry about the often erratic supply of human drivers.

“In busy times there’s a shortage of supply drivers,” Buttress said. “These will enable restaurants to meet the demand.”

At a time when there is much concern of the safety of driverless vehicles due to the recent fatal crash involving a Tesla test vehicle, Starship has an enviable record. As of June, 30 robots have driven almost 5,000 miles without an accident or, in any way, having problems with pedestrians in more than 40 test sites around the world, including the University of Arkansas, in the U.S.; London, Glastonbury and Milton Keynes, in the U.K.; and Tallinn, Estonia.

“We haven’t lost a single robot in eight months or been involved in any accidents that resulted in loss or injury,” said Martinson.

If the London trial goes well, Just Eat is capable of quickly expanding its droid fleet. According Buttress, Just Eat’s robots could be providing service to consumers throughout the U.K. as early as 2017.

Starship still needs to answer some significant questions before its droids roll out onto D.C.’s sidewalks.

“We haven’t yet decided which part [of Washington, D.C.] we want to test in,” Martinson told the Daily Verge. “We need to factor in things like commercial partners, sidewalk quality, the number of street lights. At the moment we have several candidates, but it is far too early.”

Starship also must improve its machines’ autonomy and navigation.

“At the moment we’re doing all of the testing under human control,” said Martinson. “We need to further the seamless self-driving capability.”

So far, public reaction to the drones has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The most surprising reaction has been the lack of reaction,” said Martinson. “But kids love it. We’ve seen them try to chase it, hug it. One person tried to feed it a banana.”

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