Last Updated on June 7, 2022 by Mark P.
Chick-fil-A is taking a leap into the delivery future with its recent enlistment of help from Refraction AI. This company uses robotics to lower a business’ last-mile delivery cost. The popular fast food focuses on offering delicious chicken sandwiches and will begin using Refraction’s services in late June in the Austin area.
Refraction AI, established in 2019 in Ann Arbor, Mich., worked with several restaurants to become a better delivery service than UberEats and DoorDash. The company developed bike-lane-bound robots that ensured customers’ orders would be delivered. It recently moved its headquarters to Austin, Texas and continues to establish relationships with area restaurants.
Refraction discovered that its unique selling point came from delivering superior quality service and providing satisfactory delivery rates.
Refraction Chief Technology Officer and co-founder Matthew Johnson-Roberson said companies could negotiate with DoorDash for reasonable prices, but there is no guarantee that they will hire top drivers that will arrive on time with hot food. He said no restaurant, Chick-fil-A included, has control over that.
Johnson-Roberson said Chick-fil-A would use Refraction AI’s fleet of self-driving vehicles for two of its downtown Austin restaurants – Martin Luther King Boulevard and 6th & Congress (where initial testing took place). He suspects the experimentation is centered on filling gaps that the company currently sees as detrimental to its service quality.
Johnson-Roberson did not specify the exact number of vehicles Chick-fil-A had ordered but said it was “an order of 10”.
Refraction’s deal with Chick-fil-A is part of a grander strategy. The company is trying to get a sense of how it can help fast-food restaurants boost their effectiveness and profitability using robotic delivery. By working with a known-chain restaurant, the company may be forced to build other robots to fill a growing need in the industry.
A company spokesperson said Refraction was looking into fostering partnerships with grocery and retail stores.
Its REV-1 robot is designed to work on the bicycle foundation, using the bike lanes – not too small for sidewalks and not too big for street operation. They don’t go any faster than 15 miles per hour, which Johnson-Roberson said helps boost delivery time and keep tech costs low.
According to Johnson-Roberson, the robots are primarily self-driving and need minimal human oversight. It works by going on routes that are easier to autonomously drive, going into a teleoperated mode when it’s being monitored by a remote operator. The remote operator can also control the vehicle in situations where necessary, such as high-risk intersections, unprotected left turns, etc.
The company installed insulation in the REV-1 that will protect the food’s temperature and vent its electrical components. Johnson-Roberson said the key is to ensure the food arrives within 10 to 12 minutes and maintains a moderate temperature. He said brands are consistently trying to meet customers’ expectations about food delivery and its quality.
This repeat expectation of delicious food is what will allow Refraction to magnify its presence in the fast-food industry, beginning with Chick-fil-A.