Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Delivery robots deploy around South Congress


A personal delivery device operates in the shoulder of South Congress Avenue.
It's possible your next takeout meal or grocery order could arrive by robot. A fleet of 10 personal delivery devices have recently deployed throughout the South Congress District and surrounding nrighborhoods to assist with last-mile deliveries.

The three-wheeled devices are owned and operated by Refraction AI, a private company that launched a similar service in Michigan in 2019. The personal delivery devices are two-and-a-half feet wide, four-and-a-half feet tall and four-and-a-half-feet long, which is approximately the size of a person on a bicycle. Using a host of sensors and cameras, a remote operator maintains supervision over the device at all times. Currently, another member of Refraction's team also accompanies the robot throughout each stage of its journey and is happy to answer any questions you may have when you see them out and about.

The arrival of this type of delivery robot follows several years of action by City and state leaders, beginning with a City Council resolution in May 2017. At the time, the Council asked staff "to explore the robotic delivery model," which was followed with a complementary resolution in August 2017 to outline parameters for the operation of a pilot program. State law enacted in 2019 provides parameters for personal delivery devices, including a 20-mile-per-hour speed limit while operating on the shoulder of a roadway and requiring an operator to be within 25 feet of the device when it's in motion.

The company has collaborated with Austin Transportation officials to ensure compliance with state and local laws ahead of its launch. The company is not required to seek permits to operate in the right of way; the City is not funding its operation in any way.