Things have gotten even weirder in Austin with the debut of a delivery service powered by robots.
A delivery driver for Southside Flying Pizza in Austin, Texas, is getting a lot of attention. She’s unlike anything most Austinites have ever seen: Known by the company that made her as “17,” she has a gray plastic trunk that hits a bit higher than waist level and is attached to a frame resembling a recumbent bicycle. Refraction AI, the company that made her, believes that 17 and her robot compatriots are poised to corner the delivery market, reports Texas Monthly. But not just yet. For now, the adolescent robot is accompanied on pizza deliveries by a chaperone; a human who cycles behind her, training the AI to navigate traffic and detect speed bumps and other potential snags. 17’s operation is currently limited to a three-mile radius, but the autonomous robotics company, founded by two former University of Michigan robotics professors, believes it could ultimately capitalize on the promise and failures of the perpetually delayed self-driving car. The company has so far manufactured only a handful of these REV-1 delivery robots. Its CEO Luke Schneider says they’re cheaper and safer than autonomous cars, which have crashed or failed to decelerate, resulting in deaths. The delivery robots hit about 12 miles an hour max—a speed that may just result in bruises or a crushed pie. Still, many remain to be convinced of their benefits. Some cyclists are incensed at the thought of AI encroachment on coveted bike lanes, and others are wondering: Why fix what isn’t broken?