“It’s busy in your area, there is currently a shortage of delivery partners”, often shows up on our smartphones when wanting to order food in Delft. With worker shortages in seemingly every sector, automation is in higher demand than ever and perhaps more importantly, for the first time is being accepted by society faster than ever.
Serve Robotics, a company based in San Francisco, has recently launched their Level-4 Self Driving Robots for commercial use in Los Angeles in partnership with Uber Eats. It’s the first time in the world that commercial operations are taking place with any form of Level 4 Autonomy.
Level 4 Autonomy
You may be wondering what Level 4 autonomy is, well in short it means that Serve’s Robot can undertake a delivery with zero intervention of a human driver on public roads in non-test conditions. It’s a step below Level 5 autonomy in which the automation can drive the robot in every environment possible. Serve Robotics still maintains the ability to take over control remotely as an extra layer of safety when navigating through dense urban environments. This is a significant foray into fully autonomous food delivery; however, it does not come without it’s fair share of ‘if’s and but’s’. Serve’s robots only operate on the sidewalk and are therefore only allowed to travel at speeds up to 3 mph (4.8 kmph), not exactly fast food. The fact that it solely operates on the sidewalk, where its obstacles are merely walking people and street furniture, also makes it easier to reach level 4 autonomy.
In the Netherlands we are already familiar with very sustainable methods of delivery (bicycles, e-scooters, e-bikes), and though the odd car is used for deliveries, the vast majority of deliveries are undertaken by the former. However, in the United States most food delivery is done by cars. These robots have the potential to change the carbon footprint of the industry, albeit only for short distances.
If you don’t live close to the restaurant and want your pizza to arrive within a reasonable time of your order, then a shift needs to be made from the sidewalk to the road. Nuro, a company based in Mountain View, California (silicon valley) has developed an autonomous vehicle for just that. While the Nuro has also attained level 4 autonomy, it has not yet launched commercial operations, it is still operating in testing phase in Houston. Nuro’s third generation vehicle, launched in 2022, can travel at speeds up to 45 mph (72 kmph), but it’s only 20% smaller than a passenger car. Now if a swarm of the Nuro’s took over all food deliveries in Delft, one can only imagine the uproar of the citizens of the nuisance and eyesore on the streetscape, especially during peak delivery hours.
Delivery by Drones
Another option is to expand our workspace dimensions and take to the skies! Food delivery by drone has a significant set of advantages. First of all it’s fast; drones go as the crow flies, they are immune to traffic and can go much faster than anyone could go on land in a city. Secondly, they can deliver anywhere with a suitable landing spot, think of food being delivered on the beach at Scheveningen, a place inaccessible by other vehicles.
The biggest challenge with drone delivery is safety. People need to stay safe from the rotors when landing and there is little room for mishaps (can’t have food falling from the sky!). There will be significant regulatory hurdles to drone deliveries, but it’s the most revolutionary food delivery method of all.
Delivery Robots on Campus?
The Cognitive Robotics group at 3mE are very eager to make robotics more visible on our campus. A foray into this could be made by delivery robots. Imagine ordering food from any of the establishments at Pulse, Aula, the Fellowship or one of the food trucks and having it delivered to you anywhere on campus. It could even be used to deliver grocery items from the Spar on campus. It’s already been done before (see video below of UCLA), and can definitely be done in the TU Delft campus.