Postmates is believed to be one of the first services in the U.S. to use a fleet of robots to deliver food.
The cooler-sized machines are now roaming the sidewalks of Washington D.C. waiting for an order.
Customers can go online or use the company’s app to order a meal.
The robot then heads to the restaurant — using an array of sensors and cameras to navigate the sidewalk.
The system creates a digital map to remember trouble spots –and it can even read electronic signs at crosswalks.
An employee loads the food into a locked compartment and sends it on its way to the customer.
Other companies have experimented with autonomous delivery using aerial drones.
UPS is currently testing package delivery.
But Postmates says given the current infrastructure — using sidewalks– the most practical approach.
“It lets us drive down the cost of delivery by 80 to 90 percent over time which opens up a whole new class of delivery where for people today it wouldn’t be financially viable,” said Russell Cook, Postmates’ senior VP of operations.
The robots are built by Estonia-based Starship Technologies, which has also partnered with several companies to offer delivery services in Europe.
Postmates’ rollout in D.C. is the first fully-operational program.
Food delivery startup DoorDash will also be rolling out a similar program in Redwood City, California.
“Long-term we would like to see as many cities as possible, we think we have a real potential to have a positive impact in a number of ways,” said Nick Handrick, DC Operations manager for Starship technologies.
“You know, cutting down on traffic, cutting down on delivery vehicles which require a huge input in terms of gas.”
Despite their plans to expand — the rollout could be slow.
Starship and its partners are required to negotiate with individual city governments to get permission for the robots to use the sidewalk.