OPINIONRetail Foodservice

Local Food Delivery Goes Autonomous

Startup Refraction AI is working the newest ideas in restaurant and food delivery

The Lempert Report

Refraction AI, co-founded by the directors of the University of Michigan and Ford Center for Autonomous Vehicles, is a startup focused on the local food-delivery market.

Refraction’s concept is to avoid the hard parts of driving, which so many autonomous vehicles are still struggling with, by acting not like a car but like a bicycle, according to Wired. The three-wheeled REV-1 is 4 feet tall and 32 inches wide, about the profile of an adult on a bike. It uses bike lanes where available and hugs the shoulder everywhere else. 

That confers a few advantages, writes Wired. At just 100 pounds (not counting cargo) and driving at 10 to 12 miles per hour, it can stop in about 5 feet, reducing the need to spot obstacles hundreds of feet ahead and mitigating the damage of any crash.  

Keeping the REV-1 to low speeds and out of the way of cars should help Refraction move to market. It’s now working with two Ann Arbor, Mich., restaurants, making deliveries to the startup’s employees and hoping to expand to the public in the coming months. 
Refraction’s business is starting with food deliveries, sticking to dense urban areas, and running routes between half a mile and 2.5 miles. The REV-1 is made mostly of fiberglass and uses an e-bike motor for power. It costs $4,500 to build. The founders project that REV-1 can make four to six deliveries a day, each between $35 and $40; while taking a 10% to 15% commission from the restaurant, it can pay off the cost of a vehicle in a few months. 

The plan is to make deliveries free for customers, to induce them get over the fact that they’ll have to walk to the curb and punch a code into the REV-1’s screen to get their food.  



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