startup Cartken has partnered with REEF Technology. This startup operates parking lots and neighborhood hubs to bring robots to the streets of downtown Miami.
With this announcement, Cartken officially comes out of stealth mode. The company, founded by ex-Google engineers and colleagues behind the unrequited Bookbot, was formed to develop market-ready tech in self-driving, AI-powered robotics, and delivery operations in 2019, but the team has kept operations under wraps until now. This is Cartken’s first significant deployment of self-driving robots on sidewalks.
After a few test months, the REEF-branded electric-powered robots are now delivering dinner orders from REEF’s network of delivery-only kitchens to people located within a 3/4-mile radius in downtown Miami. The robots, insulated and thus can preserve the heat of a plate of spaghetti or other hot food, are pre-stationed at designated logistics hubs and dispatched with.
“We want to show how future-forward Miami can be,” Matt Lindenberger, REEF’s chief technology officer, told TechCrunch. “This is a great chance to show off the. The combination of us having a in Miami, the fact that there are a lot of challenges around congestion as Covid subsides, still shows a perfect environment where we can show how this tech can work.”
Lindenberg said Miami is a great place to start, but it’s just the beginning, with potential for the Cartken robots to be used for REEF’s other last-mile delivery businesses. Currently, only two restaurant delivery robots are operating in Miami. Still, Lindenberger said the company is planning to expand further into the city and outward into Fort Lauderdale and other large metros the company operates in, such as Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and eventually New York.
Lindenberger is hoping the presence of robots in the streets can act as a “force multiplier,” allowing them to scale while cost-effectivelyof service. “We’re seeing an explosion in deliveries right now in a , and we foresee that to continue, so these types of no-contact, zero-emission automation techniques are really critical,” he said.
Carton’s robots are powered by a combination ofand rules-based programming to react to every situation that could occur, even if that just means safely stopping and asking for help, Christian Bersch, CEO of Cartken, told TechCrunch. REEF would have supervisors on-site to remotely control the robot if needed, a caveat included in the 2017 legislation that allowed for the operation of self-driving delivery robots in Florida.
“The technology at the end of the day is very similar to that of a self-driving car,” said Bersch. “The robot is seeing the environment, planning around obstacles like pedestrians or lampposts. If there’s an unknown situation, someone can help the robot out safely because it can stop on a dime. But it’s important to also have that level of autonomy on the robot because it can react in a split second, faster than anybody remotely could, if something happens like someone jumps in front of it.”
REEF marks specific operating areas on the map for the robots, and Cartken tweaks the configuration for the city, accounting for particular situations a robot might need to deal with so that when the robots are given a delivery address, they can makeand operate like any other delivery driver. Only this driver has an LTE connection and is constantly its location so REEF can integrate it into its fleet management capabilities.
Eventually, Lindenberger said, they’re hoping to offer the option for customers to choose robot delivery on the central food delivery platforms REEF works with like Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash, or GrubHub. Customers would receive a text when the robot arrives so they can go outside and meet it. However, the .
Currently, the robots only make it street-level, and then the food is passed off to a human who delivers it directly to the door, which is a prefer. Navigating into an apartment complex and to a customer’s unit is difficult for a robot to manage just yet, and many customers aren’t quite ready to interact directly with a robot.