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Robotic Food Delivery Begins in San Francisco

Marble partnered with takeaway meal ordering mobile application Yelp Eat24 to put its boxy, wheeled robots to work handling local deliveries.

AFP Relaxnews

Updated:April 13, 2017, 11:52 AM IST
Robotic Food Delivery Begins in San Francisco
Marble co-founder and chief Matthew Delaney readies a 'Happy' ground-delivery robot to head off with a load outside the startup's headquarters in San Francisco, California. (Image: AFP Relaxnews)

San Francisco startup Marble on Wednesday began giving its hometown a taste of restaurant orders delivered by a robot, confident that appetite for such service will grow around the world.

Marble partnered with takeaway meal ordering mobile application Yelp Eat24 to put its boxy, wheeled robots to work handling local deliveries for some restaurants in the Mission and Portrero Hill districts of San Francisco.

"It's the real deal," Marble co-founder and chief Matthew Delaney told AFP while providing a demonstration of one of the robots at the startup's offices in Portrero Hill.

"On select evenings, you might be getting a text message in the middle of your Yelp Eat24 order asking if you would like it delivered by robot."

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Marble is starting with a "handful" of robots and keeping it opt-in when it comes to whether machines handle deliveries.

Food orders are locked into robot cargo compartments large enough to hold about four standard shopping bags.

Marble robots, the current generation named "Happy" and numbered, roll along sidewalks and cross streets at walking speeds, relying on lasers, cameras and other sensors to manoeuvre.

The technology involved is similar to that used in self-driving cars.

Marble also created three-dimensional digital maps of neighbourhoods where robots will be working

"This allows us to have the most intelligent and reliable robot that really knows its environment and is a bit socially aware so that it can have the right etiquette on the sidewalk and get around," Delaney said of combining sensors and maps.

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Marble robots were designed to get around on their own, but they will have human escorts during the roll-out. Robots are also wirelessly linked to operators who, from Marble's office, virtually ride along.

"We have basically eyes and ears there," Delaney said. "Operators can jump in at any time."

He described the robot cargo compartment as being as safe as a typical car trunk. When robots arrive with food orders, customers get text messages containing codes to enter on keypads to unlock lids.

Marble robots are built by the startup, which would not disclose how much they cost. A revenue model had yet to be put in place. The delivery service launched Wednesday was described as a step on the path to perfecting the robots.

The startup on Wednesday also announced it has raised $4 million in seed funding from investors including venture capital firms Eclipse, Maven Ventures and Amplify Partners.

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