“Last Mile” Delivery Robot Looks To Replace Human Drivers

can be reached at joseph.dallegro@yahoo.com
can be reached at joseph.dallegro@yahoo.com
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Refraction AI, a startup in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is developing an autonomous robot that can operate on both streets and bike lanes to make short-range deliveries directly to consumers. 

  • Refraction AI is looking to replace delivery drivers and bicycle couriers with autonomous and electric 3-wheeled drones.
  • The REV-1 is smaller than a riding lawn mower but has the cargo capacity of a mid-size car’s trunk.
  • Purchase price for the delivery robot is expected to be under $5,000 so it sounds like they could pay for themselves rather quickly.
Refraction AI Rev 1 delivery drone
Refraction AI Rev 1 delivery drone can travel at speeds up to 15mph and operate up to 12 hours on a single charge.

The REV-1 robot’s 16 cubic feet cargo hold is nearly as spacious as a Honda Accord’s trunk, but its overall dimensions – 60 inches tall, 54 inches long and 30 inches wide – are closer in size to a small riding lawn mower. Refraction says the automated vehicle can carry up to five grocery bags, and reach speeds up to 15 miles per hour. The company also claims that the 100-pound three wheeler can come to a stop in only five feet – shorter than other automated vehicles on the market.  

CEO Matthew Johnson-Roberson unveiled the robot at a TechCrunch conference on mobility earlier this month, where he described it as a “Goldilocks” delivery solution for urban areas, as it’s sized between large vehicles meant solely for on-street driving, and small delivery drones that can operate on sidewalks. He said the REV-1’s size is a great fit for urban environments, and its light weight and relatively sedate speed makes it safe for pedestrians.

Johnson-Roberson co founded the company with Ram Vasudevan. The two men are robotics professors at the University of Michigan.

The REV-1 uses a dozen cameras to interpret the world around it along with radar and ultrasound sensors, and the company claims its system can navigate in rain and snow. “The REV-1 is designed to transport goods from places like restaurants, pharmacies, and grocery stores, and deliver them directly to a customer’s house,” wrote Johnson-Roberson in an email to Ride.Tech. He explained that the robot can operate for 12 hours on a charge, and work within a .5- to 2.5-mile service range. Once the REV-1 arrives at a destination, the recipient receives a text message and single-use access code they can use to retrieve their goods.

Johnson-Roberson described the $4,500-$5,000 cost of the REV-1 as less than competing delivery systems. “One of our goals in design was to keep the price of the vehicle down,” he said. “Since our focus is safety over speed, we choose to operate at a slower pace, making the navigation sensors more affordable… We are working on a service model where partners purchase the robots, but Refraction maintains and handles the service.

Refraction is testing its delivery drones across Ann Arbor this summer. The company is backed by eLab Ventures and Trucks Venture Capital.


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can be reached at joseph.dallegro@yahoo.com
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