Our first debut: Refraction’s robot delivery service launches today in Ann Arbor

Dec 12, 2019 · 3 min read

Today is an exciting day for us at Refraction — we’re launching our first commercial food delivery service in Ann Arbor. Starting today, customers can sign up for our pilot program to place lunchtime delivery orders from local favorite restaurants Miss Kim, Belly Deli, Tios Mexican Cafe and Chow Asian Street Food carried out by our REV-1 robot — about the size of a bicycle that operates in the bike lane and the roadway.

Here’s some background on why my co-founder Ram and I launched Refraction over the summer…

The food delivery market is expected to be a $100 billion dollar sector within the next several years. As this sector expands, we at Refraction believe that a well-constructed autonomous solution to food delivery can keep consumer and restaurant costs to a minimum without creating cumbersome congestion.

As we launch our commercial food delivery service, we wanted to share some of the values that guide our company.

  1. People First

This may seem strange for a robotics company, but our core value is people first. We believe in building things that enhance people’s well-being rather than detract from it. We feel that autonomous vehicles have great potential, but with that potential comes great risks. We are focused on building a platform that is safe, above all else. These safety requirements have guided the choices we have made regarding form factor and the maximum speed during operation, in addition to the places where we operate. We know that pedestrians and cyclists are some of the most vulnerable road users and are at the greatest risk for harm when operating in urban environments. We are also focused on developing an interface to help pedestrians, cyclists, and cars understand what our robot is thinking and why it’s making the decisions that it is.

2. Working with Communities to Promote Safer Cities

I don’t own a car. I either walk or bike everywhere, so I understand the risks and challenges that cyclists face in big cities. That is why our company is advocating for more protected lanes for things slower and lighter than cars (bikes, scooters, robots, etc.) because pathways for transportation divided by speed and weight improves safety. To make sure that we can improve the accessibility of cities, we are working with cyclists and cycling organizations. We believe that more protected lanes in cities can and will improve accessibility for everyone!

Improving safety also means working with all interested parties to ensure the public is aware of our deployments. To this end, we are also working with cycling alliances and advocacy groups to increase awareness before any major deployments.

3. Privacy

Autonomous vehicles gather a wealth of information about the world. We believe in people’s privacy and we believe that it is critical to understand, manage, and be transparent as to how and why sensor data is being used. We want our customers, the public, policymakers, and city officials to have a clear picture of how we manage and protect the privacy of all people we serve and interact with.

4. Transparency

Transparency is crucial to building public trust. Autonomy and AI may displace jobs and in some cases, whole industries. Without an honest and transparent model and plan to account for that possibility, any company working in this space may cause significant harm to real people. So, just like everything we are trying to model (including pricing, growth, runway, etc.), we’re working to understand and model job displacement that may occur as a result of our robot’s deployment.

5. Diversity

In the same vein as transparency, we believe that diversity is an asset and one of our core values as a company. Technological advancements and their associated benefits have been unequally shared due to inequitable access in our society. Our company aims to foster a culture that engages, promotes, and supports those who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields.

If you’re attending CES 2020 in January, come say hello! We’ll be exhibiting the REV-1 robot with Livox LiDAR.

We’re currently hiring, as well! Our team is driven, friendly, and we’re looking for more folks to help us grow.

As we begin expanding our network of restaurant partners, we will continue posting here about what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve learned, future happenings at Refraction, and more.

Refraction makes low-cost, lightweight AV robots whose first application will be last-mile delivery.

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