Local Food Delivery Goes Autonomous

The Lempert Report
August 29, 2019

Refraction AI, cofounded by the directors of the University of Michigan and Ford Center for Autonomous Vehicles, is a start up 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 mph, 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 restaurants, making deliveries to the startup’s employees and hoping to expand to the general public in the coming months. 

Refraction’s business is starting with food deliveries, sticking to dense urban areas, and running routes between .5 and 2.5 miles. The REV-1 is made mostly of fiberglass and uses an ebike motor for power, 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 percent 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.