Refraction AI launches autonomous delivery robot

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Refraction AI, founded by University of Michigan professors Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan, has launched the REV-1 autonomous delivery robot at the TechCrunch Mobility event.

According to the company, REV-1 is lightweight and low cost as there are no expensive lidar sensors on the vehicle. It can operate in a cycle lane and is designed to travel in rain or snow.

The robot, which debuted on-stage at the California Theater in San Jose on July 10, is about the size of an electric bicycle – it weighs about 100 lb (45kg), stands about 5ft (150cm) tall and is 4.5ft (137cm) long, and has a top speed of 15mph (24km/h). Inside the robot is 16ft3 (450 liters) of space, enough room to fit four or five grocery bags.

According to Bob Stefanski, managing director of eLab Ventures, which is backing the REV-1 robot, Refraction’s sturdy, smaller-sized delivery robots will enable faster technology development and will be able to cover a larger service area than competitors operating on the sidewalk.

“Their vehicles are also lightweight enough to deploy more safely than a self-driving car or large robot,” Stefanski noted. “The market is huge, especially in densely populated areas.”

The REV-1 uses a system of 12 cameras as its primary sensor system, along with radar and ultrasound sensors for additional safety. “It doesn’t make sense economically speaking to use a US$10,000 lidar to deliver US$10 of food,” Johnson-Roberson said. By skipping the more expensive lidar sensor, Refraction AI is able to keep the total cost of the vehicle to US$5,000.

The company’s first test application is with local restaurant partners in Michigan. The company hopes to lock in bigger national partnerships in the next six months but these won’t be in the Southwest or California, where many other autonomous vehicle companies are testing.

“Other companies are not trying to run in the winter here,” Johnson-Roberson said. “It’s a different problem than the one that others are trying to solve, so we hope that gives us some space to breathe and some chance to carve out some opportunity.”

Watch a video on the new REV-1 delivery robot here.

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With over a decade of experience as a business and technology journalist working in B2B publishing, Hazel first joined UKi in 2011. After taking 18 months off to bring up her daughter and try her hand at marketing copywriting, she returned in January 2018 to do what she loves best – magazine editing! She is now the editor of UKi's Passenger Terminal World and Parcel and Postal Technology International magazines.

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