Is That R2-D2? Nope, It’s a Food Delivery Robot
Self-driving mini meal carts are now zipping around Mosaic with takeout in tow. 🥗
The next time you’re strolling down the sidewalk at Mosaic, you might happen upon a cute and compact cart that looks like it’s playing capture the flag on wheels.
Meet a new fleet of food-delivery robots from Uber Eats and Cartken, an Oakland, California-based robotics company that employs artificial intelligence to power the mini vehicles.
In a service that rolled out last month, select restaurants at the Fairfax/Merrifield shopping center are now offering customers the option of receiving their miso soup, margherita pizzas and mojito smoothies via self-driving robots.
“Our partnership with Uber Eats and Cartken brings convenience to Mosaic through cutting-edge technology,” says Greg Dercach, vice president of property management for Edens, Mosaic’s developer. “For residents and visitors alike, this new delivery service is a great fit for those looking for a fun and convenient way to enjoy their next meal while spending time with us.”
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The initial roster of participating restaurants includes Colada Shop, District Dumplings, Iron Chef House, Jinya Ramen, Junction Bistro & Bar, Our Mom Eugenia, Pupatella, RASA and Urbano.
Here’s how the service works: When you place an order with a participating restaurant via the Uber Eats app, a prompt alerts you if robot delivery is available. Customers can proceed, or opt out if they’d prefer human delivery. The app notifies you when your order has been picked up from the restaurant and when it has arrived at your location, providing a code that allows you to unlock the robot and retrieve your carry-out. Paid a tip by accident? If a robot delivers your order, your tip is refunded.
The robots are electric and use sensors, cameras and AI technology that can detect aspects of their surroundings, such as nearby pedestrians, vehicles and crosswalks. Robotics are also being employed by companies such as DoorDash, Domino’s, Kroger and FedEx. (Amazon halted its Scout delivery service several months ago after the bots “weren’t meeting customers’ needs.”)
Cartken has also partnered with food-delivery platforms in Tucson, Arizona, and Miami, Florida. The robot food-delivery sector is projected to be worth some $1 billion in revenue by 2026.
Edens, which owns and operates several dozen properties in the D.C. area and throughout the country—including shopping centers in Alexandria, Falls Church and Tysons—currently features robot food-delivery exclusively at Mosaic. Though it’s the company’s first such venture, it may not be the last.
“We are evaluating opportunities like this to provide the best possible experience for our communities,” Dercach says.
Mosaic is currently the only location in the D.C. area where Uber Eats is employing robot delivery, according to a spokesperson for the delivery platform. Though the proliferation of AI technology could potentially supplant human workers, the company is not concerned about that possibility. Rather, Uber Eats sees autonomous deliveries as a component that—along with drivers and other couriers—can expand its service and bring in more restaurants and consumers.
For local pizza purveyor Pupatella, the delivery droid option has so far launched without a hitch.
“The program is still ramping up, so we expect deliveries to pick up with robots over the coming weeks,” says Michael Berger, a managing partner with the homegrown pizzeria chain. “We’re excited to bring more Mosaic residents our pizzas.”
If Uber Eats were to expand the service, he says Pupatella would be “very interested” in adding robot delivery to its other locations in Arlington and beyond.