Chick-fil-A is using self-driving robots to deliver meals from two locations in downtown Austin, Texas, as the industry continues to search for innovative ways to mitigate labor pressures.
The fast-food giant is partnering with Refraction AI, which offers a robot that travels in the margin of the road or in a bike lane. This way, it avoids the speed, distance, and regulatory constraints of being on a sidewalk, and the safety, technology, and cost challenges of being a full-sized autonomous vehicle.
Customers receive a series of text messages confirming their order is coming via robot and get an estimated arrival time as soon as it's picked up from the restaurant. The final text is a code used to unlock the robot and take the meal.
The robots complete last-mile deliveries with 90 percent lower carbon emissions and 80 percent less energy consumption, at a fraction of the cost of typical delivery.
The initial test began at the Chick-fil-A located on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. A second pilot will begin in late June at the store on Martin Luther King Boulevard, which is about 1 mile away.
"Autonomous delivery using Refraction's robots creates an exciting new opportunity to extend the Chick-fil-A experience to a growing number of delivery guests," Luke Steigmeyer, operator of one of the downtown Austin Chick-fil-A stores, said in a statement. "The platform will allow us to provide fast, high quality, and cost-effective meal delivery within a mile radius of our restaurant all while helping to keep the community we serve environmentally clean and safe."
Refraction operates in the restaurant, retail, and grocery spaces. The roughly 80-pound robot is able to deliver in all weather conditions, and it has a short stopping distance to prevent accidents.
"We are thrilled about working with Chick-fil-A, an organization that is admired and respected as much for its commitment to the communities it serves, as it is for the innovation and quality of its business," Refraction CEO Luke Schneider said in a statement. "We are kindred spirits partnering with Chick-fil-A restaurants to demonstrate a smart, sensible approach to delivery that continues a tradition of surprising and delighting guests."
This isn't the first time Chick-fil-A has explored autonomous delivery. In April 2021 the restaurant revealed it was partnering with Kiwibot to test robotic delivery in Santa Monica, California.
Domino's announced last year it was using Nuro's autonomous vehicle to fulfill delivery orders in Houston. It's the first completely autonomous, occupantless on-road delivery vehicle with regulatory approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation. 7-Eleven began testing robotic delivery with Nuro in Mountain View, California, late in 2021, as well.