Read our report on the food delivery robot craze and learn why your RDS isn’t necessarily at risk.

The headlines these days are full of new and unusual food delivery mechanisms. Robots, drones, and other high-tech delivery vehicles are being deployed everywhere. If you’re a restaurant delivery service (RDS) owner, you might wonder: Are food delivery robots a threat to my business?

As of right now, the short answer is this: Probably not—but it depends. We put together this quick guide to food delivery robots to help you understand how they might affect your RDS.

Where are food delivery robots being used?

As is usually the case with new technology, food delivery robots are being piloted in just a few key areas. Big cities, college campuses, and contained public spaces, such airports, are the most common test sites. Here are a few examples:

  • In September 2022, the Chicago city council approved a two-year pilot program for food delivery robots. The goal is to observe whether using robots for food delivery is safe—or even practical. The robots will be allowed on sidewalks and crosswalks, limiting their range to the urban core.
  • The Chicago pilot is an expansion of an earlier pilot on the University of Illinois—Chicago campus. Food delivery robots were tested on other campuses as well. The University of Mississippi, called “Ole Miss,” first began experimenting with robots in early 2020.
  • The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport announced its first delivery robots in late 2021. The robots use LiDAR and other sensors to navigate the terminals and avoid bumping into people and other obstacles. Many other airports, hotels, and public spaces are exploring the possibilities.

Do food delivery robots work?

In a vacuum, yes. With advances in sensor and remote control technologies, food delivery robots operate pretty much exactly as intended. If the conditions are right, they work well.

However, food delivery robots have pretty significant limitations. For starters, none of them have the range or speed of a car. In a pedestrian-friendly urban core, this isn’t a problem. But for suburban and rural communities, food delivery robots are very impractical.

And “walkable” does not always translate to “robot-friendly.” Able-bodied people can navigate bumps, cracks, and uneven sidewalks just fine. But many robots would struggle to maneuver across major obstacles. Food delivery robots aren’t much use without a relatively smooth travel surface.

Lastly, food delivery robots may not be compatible with accessibility needs. Many people are housebound by disabilities, autoimmune conditions, and other factors. These populations rely heavily on delivery workers to get them what they need. Depending on their ability levels, they may not be able to:

  • Travel downstairs to meet a robot in the lobby.
  • Interact with a touch screen or press small buttons on the robot.
  • Open the robot’s cargo compartment and remove the contents.

Simply put, some people simply need a human delivery professional.

Do I need to worry about food delivery robots?

Again, probably not—but it depends.

If your delivery range is primarily urban, or your business relies on hungry college students, then maybe. These markets are the primary target for food delivery robot pilot programs. And the novelty of a robot dropping off your noodles may be irresistible for many people. So there’s a chance you could lose market share. Just keep an eye on the news to see whether the robots are headed your way.

Outside of college campuses and urban cores, there’s very little cause to worry. The practicality of food delivery robots in these environments is extremely limited. And the technological advances needed to change that are a long way down the road.

One thing to note is the motivation of many food delivery robot manufacturers. These tech companies aren’t necessarily looking to replace human workers; they’re trying to address labor shortages. The New York Post shared a quote from Ritukar Vijay, the CEO Of Ottonomy.IO, about this: 

“We are not replacing any people because the fact is that the labor shortage is so high that there’s already a crunch in the staff with our current customers. What’s happening is we are enabling the minimal staff to do more and making sure that the end customer is not paying for the extra service.”

Food delivery robot makers are simply responding to a market gap. Their goal is not to eliminate the need for human drivers.

It’s also worth noting that many people will always prefer the human touch over a machine. Even if food delivery robots do become more prevalent, many customers will remain loyal to RDSs that use delivery drivers.

In short, if you’re an RDS owner, you can breathe easily. Depending on where you operate, you may share the load with a few robots. But at this stage, it seems unlikely that your business is at risk of “death by robot.” Your customers will remain loyal if you continue to provide top-notch service.

And you don’t have to be a robot manufacturer to take advantage of the miracle of technology. DataDreamers makes the best restaurant delivery software on the market. DataDreamers offers a full suite of robust tools that make the delivery process smoother for everyone: Restaurants, drivers, and customers.

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