Refraction AI’s REV-1 robots make deliveries in South Congress, Downtown, and the UT campus, traveling about 10-15 miles per hour, typically in bike lanes or on the road’s shoulder. “We have petabytes of video data of robots moving through space and consumers interacting with robots,” Refraction AI CEO Luke Schneider said. “This is essentially a new paradigm for last-mile delivery, where you were used to having somebody in a car parked with their flashers on get out, knock on your door, or drop it on your front doorstep. Today, you get a text message saying, ‘Hey, robot is showing up. Here’s your access code for the compartment to access your order.'”
Schneider said its founders, Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan, have roots in autonomous vehicle technology. However, they decided the path to making AVs mainstream would be long and expensive, so they shifted to a more attainable path that led to the REV-1 bots. “The technology you have to have to drive a car by itself at high speeds is absurdly difficult, and in fact, maybe one of the hardest problems there is in business today, so they said, ‘Let’s deliver goods instead of people,'” Schneider said. To lower costs, the company uses a less expensive sensor suite, enabled by the bots’ low speeds.
“We are not trying to do full autonomy because full autonomy isn’t a real thing. Autonomy is an asymptote. You get ever closer to full autonomy, but the idea of full autonomy is just sort of a – no offense – it’s probably a media invention,” Schneider said. He added that if a REV-1 bot gets in trouble, an operator can remotely pilot it. And why is AI in the name? “When it comes down to it, what self-driving is, is artificial intelligence,” Schneider said. “The amount of load and cognitive processing that happens when you drive something is tremendous.”
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