In recent years, young adults have been dining out more than ever. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on average, millennials allocate $2,921 each year, or 44% of their total expenditure on food, on eating out. The rise of food delivery services, such as Seamless and Grubhub, and fast food restaurants allow young adults to spend less time and effort preparing food, making them appealing alternatives for preparing home-cooked meals. The food delivery market is expected to grow by up to 25.0% percent in the next few years, and does not show any signs of tapering off. Many food delivery companies have been experimenting with AI technology to instigate their growth and make their services more convenient and cheap.
In July 2014, Ahti Heinla and Jacob Friis, the cofounders of Skype, started Starship Technologies, a company developing small, self-driving delivery robots. One month later, they created their first robot prototype. The robot they created traveled at a maximum speed of 16 km/h, was powered electrically, contained a microphone, speaker, GPS tracking, camera, inertial measurement unit, and other sensors, allowing it to autonomously carry up to 22 pounds of food within a two-mile radius. Two years later, in July 2016, Starship launched its robots with partners in the UK and Germany, and performed a 90% autonomous driving test in Silicon Valley, California. Since then, Starship Technologies have partnered with big companies like delivery services Doordash and Wolt Domino's pizza, and have operated across Europe and the United States. As of June 2018, Starship Technologies has raised $25 million, has six offices in Tallinn, London, Redwood City, Washington D.C., Hamburg, and San Francisco; and its robots have traveled over 100,000 km and met over twelve million people.
Some of the concerns raised about the robots have been regarding its safety and effect on the job market. Critics of the robots worry that they are vulnerable to attacks such as theft and vandalism. After launching the robots in Silicon Valley and encountering four million people, however, there were no reported attempts of theft. Nevertheless, the robots are equipped with GPS tracking, allowing the customer to track the robot’s location on their phone, have an alarm that sounds when it is picked up, have multiple cameras, and are locked until they reach their final destination, making them resistant to theft. Also, others have expressed concerns with the robot’s ability to drive itself. Because the robot has many cameras, it has almost-360° vision and can detect nearby pedestrians and vehicles. In addition, the robot’s cameras and microphones allow a team from Starship to closely monitor it and direct it if needed.
And finally, with every new piece of technology developed comes the fear that robots will soon take over all human jobs. Because robots work more accurately and precisely than humans do and do not need to be paid, employers have been replacing their workers with robots, causing the unemployment rate to rise. Employees from food delivery services such as Doordash have expressed their discontent with Starship’s robots, claiming that they are taking away humans’ jobs. However, Stanley Tang, the cofounder of Doordash, states that he does not intend for the robots to completely replace human delivery workers and will not complete all the deliveries. Instead, he describes the robots as “complementary” to human workers and claims that the robots will only carry out short-distance, small deliveries that human dashers do not prefer.
It is evident that robots will eventually take over many industries and are likely to be the future of food delivery. While current robots such as the one from Starship Technologies have not begun replacing human workers yet, the development of more efficient robots in future years could mean the elimination of human food deliverers.
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Written by Angelina Zhang, Edited by Jack Vasquez & Alexander Fleiss