Last Mile Delivery Robots Find Their Place During Stay at Home Order
U-M robotics startup Refraction AI designs and operates networked fleets of autonomous robotic delivery vehicles. In the COVID-19 crisis they saw a clear need for the “last-mile” logistics platform that they had been testing on the streets of Ann Arbor since 2019. According to U-M associate professor of naval architecture and engineering Matthew Johnson-Roberson, who co-founded the company with mechanical engineering assistant professor Ramanarayan Vasudevan in 2019, the timing was right for a “more ethical, more sustainable, and more just” platform for delivery that removed any risk associated with human interaction.
Not only is the company’s robotic delivery service safer, it also cuts down on the carbon footprint of the participating restaurants and customers. Furthermore, it’s more cost effective for business owners, who are charged a commission of up to 30% for other delivery services. “We can deliver for about half the price of conventional delivery services,” said Johnson-Roberson. “We thought of that as a nice benefit for restaurant operators, but we had no idea how important it would become as restaurants struggle to get through the crisis.”
The company’s Rev-1 robots are battery-powered, stand five feet tall, and travel at between 10 and 15 miles per hour. The units, which weigh approximately 100 pounds each, have about 16 cubic feet of cargo space, which accommodates up to five grocery bags. The company is presently working with Roush Industries, of Livonia, Michigan, to ramp up production with the goal of having 25 robots on the road by the end of the summer.