More stories

  • in

    Uber Eats to launch a fully autonomous delivery experience (in one major market)

    Written by

    Greg Nichols, Contributor

    Greg Nichols
    Contributor

    Greg Nichols covers robotics, AI, and AR/VR for ZDNet. A full-time journalist and author, he writes about tech, travel, crime, and the economy for global media outlets and reports from across the U.

    Full Bio

    Motional
    Uber Eats is turning to autonomous vehicles in a major market. Along with AV partner Motional, the third-party delivery platform will be launching a new autonomous delivery experience in Santa Monica, California.Deliveries will be conducted in Motional’s IONIQ 5 vehicles, which are capable of operating autonomously. Participating restaurants bring packaged orders to the curb and place them inside a locking compartment. Once the car arrives at its destination the customer is notified and retrieves the order from the car. Uber Eats and Motional have been working on the various customer touchpoints for months with an eye toward a seamless rollout.

    “At Uber, we’re always looking for ways to use new technology to help consumers go anywhere and get anything,” said Noah Zych, Global GM for Uber’s Autonomous Mobility and Delivery business. “We’re thrilled to begin piloting with Motional in California and are eager to see how their promising autonomous technology will begin to change how people and goods move throughout the world for the better.”Conspicuous in the new testbed is the absence of drivers. Uber and its drivers have long had a tense relationship. Autonomous vehicle technology seems primed to enable Uber to move forward without those drivers before long.The partnership is relatively new, which makes the rollout all the more impressive. Motional and Uber announced their partnership in December of last year. This is the first on-road autonomous vehicle (AV) pilot on the Uber Eats network, which makes it an important milestone for the technology in general. Uber Eats controls an estimated 24% of the food delivery market, making its adoption of any new technology highly influential.Motional’s vehicles have been piloted in passenger conveyance but the move to food delivery represents a pivot. The Motional IONIQ 5 vehicles used in the service have been adapted to enable autonomous deliveries. The new service will allow Motional and Uber to study consumer response and technology integration. Uber clearly has long-term designs on AVs across its platform.

    ZDNet Recommends More

  • in

    Jersey Mike's to offer its subs by drone

    Written by

    Greg Nichols, Contributor

    Greg Nichols
    Contributor

    Greg Nichols covers robotics, AI, and AR/VR for ZDNet. A full-time journalist and author, he writes about tech, travel, crime, and the economy for global media outlets and reports from across the U.

    Full Bio

    Flytrex
    You might think you should look down toward the water to spot a sub. If you’re in North Carolina, you’d be better off looking up. That terrible joke is brought to you by a drone delivery services company called Flytrex, which just announced a partnership with Jersey Mike’s Subs.I’ve been a fan of Flytrex since the company delivered a beer by drone way back in 2015. Since then, the Israeli drone delivery enterprise has expanded its business-to-consumer model, although growth has been largely constrained by the need for special waivers from the FAA to fly beyond the visual line of sight. That, in turn, has led to a patchwork of testbeds but no single dominant player in the commercial drone delivery game.

    ZDNet Recommends

    The best photography drones

    This lineup of aerial hardware fits a variety of enterprise photography and video use cases.

    Flytrex’s main U.S. testbed is in North Carolina, where the company has expanded its drone delivery presence over the past couple of years. Flytrex has been making deliveries in suburban Holly Springs thanks to FAA waivers that are part of the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), which is designed to bring state, local, and tribal governments together with drone operators and manufacturers to accelerate safe commercial drone integration. The program is being seen within the sector as something of a springboard for drone manufacturers. The partnership with Jersey Mike’s Subs brings some national chain clout to the effort. Customers in the service area can now order subs to front and backyards, with a flight time of just five minutes. That short delivery time, in part, is due to the limitations of the delivery service area, which the FAA mandates. Flytrex is offering its delivery service in cooperation with longtime partner Causey Aviation Unmanned under a waiver that allows a delivery radius of one nautical mile. If that seems slim, it nonetheless accounts for thousands of homes, making it a notable proving ground, both on the technological and consumer adoption sides.  “We’re excited to team up with Jersey Mike’s to deliver subs throughout the skies of North Carolina and look forward to expanding our partnership everywhere they deliver their delicious food,” said Yariv Bash, CEO and co-founder of Flytrex. “Drone delivery is accelerating quicker than anyone could have anticipated, and we are thrilled to be at the forefront of that movement – using our technology to ensure retailers and restaurants can stay ahead of the ultrafast delivery curve.”Flytrex recently launched another pilot in Granbury, Texas, near Dallas-Fort Worth, though it’s been in North Carolina since September 2020. The choice of location is significant given the state’s ‘First in Flight’ bona fides. The company now reaches about 10,000 homes across North Carolina and Texas.  More

  • in

    Qualcomm plunges into the robotics market with new platform

    Written by

    Greg Nichols, Contributor

    Greg Nichols
    Contributor

    Greg Nichols covers robotics, AI, and AR/VR for ZDNet. A full-time journalist and author, he writes about tech, travel, crime, and the economy for global media outlets and reports from across the U.

    Full Bio

    Qualcomm RB6 Robotics Platform
    Qualcomm
    Qualcomm is taking a big dive into robotics. At its 5G Summit event, the company announced a new robotics platform that serves as an off-the-shelf developer kit for creating autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and drones, utilizing 5G and edge AI for next-gen autonomy.In practical terms, this could set off huge changes in the expanding AMR market and the upstart enterprise drone market. Currently, the space is dominated by a handful of robotics firms that build AMRs or drone-in-a-box solutions and lease them on an as-a-service model. A robust developer’s kit and underlying robotics architecture from Qualcomm could open up the playing field, leading to more customer-specific customization and enterprise in-house robotics development. 

    ZDNet Recommends

    The best photography drones

    This lineup of aerial hardware fits a variety of enterprise photography and video use cases.

    “Building on the successful growth and traction of Qualcomm Technologies’ leading robotics solutions, our expanded roadmap of solutions will help bring enhanced AI and 5G technologies to support smarter, safer, and more advanced innovations across robotics, drones, and intelligent machines,”said Dev Singh, Senior Director of Business Development and Head of Autonomous Robotics, Drones and Intelligent Machines at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. Qualcomm is using the 5G rollout as its entry point into robotics. Because of the speed and bandwidth 5G affords, it will have major implications for autonomous systems. One of the current constraints of real-world autonomy is that on-board data-processing power is expensive — and coordination across multiple autonomous platforms is highly dependent on high speed networks. Cloud-based solutions bridge the gap, but network issues have throttled development and deployment. 

    The arrival of 5G is expected to initiate a new phase of autonomous systems development, including enterprise drones. After years of slow movement, the FAA is signaling broader acceptance of commercial drone use, setting the table for the industry to take off in a big way. Qualcomm has taken note, and its RB6 platform makes it a new, powerful player in the robotics market. The expansible platform brings edge AI and video processing capabilities (essential for navigation and machine vision) through the Qualcomm AI Engine, with support for 70–200 Trillion-Operations-Per-Second (TOPS). The integration of 5G and AI makes the platform ideal for developers in industrial use cases across sectors like government service applications, logistics, healthcare, retail, warehousing, agriculture, construction, and utilities. These are all expected growth areas for robotics.In addition to the robotics platform, Qualcomm also unveiled a reference design of an AMR called RB5 AMR, which is a small wheeled robot designed to deliver packages and handle materials. More

  • in

    Amazon invests in robots to work alongside humans

    Written by

    Greg Nichols, Contributor

    Greg Nichols
    Contributor

    Greg Nichols covers robotics, AI, and AR/VR for ZDNet. A full-time journalist and author, he writes about tech, travel, crime, and the economy for global media outlets and reports from across the U.

    Full Bio

    Agility Robotics
    One of my favorite robots of the last few years is named Cassie. Little more than a pair of bipedal robotic legs, the robot was designed as a robust R&D tool for ground mobility applications. It’s a cool robot, and it’s a great illustration of a company developing baseline technology readymade for useful iteration.That approach has now netted Agility Robotics, maker of Cassie and, more recently, of commercial robots designed to work alongside people in logistics and warehouse environments, an impressive $150M Series B, which it will use to implement human-robot collaboration in logistics warehouses. The humanoid robots are capable of carrying out a number of potential warehouse tasks previously done by humans and can be deployed flexibly in various environments.

    Innovation

    “Unprecedented consumer and corporate demand have created an extraordinary need for robots to support people in the workplace,” explained Damion Shelton, CEO of Agility Robotics. “With this investment, Agility can ramp up the delivery of robots to fill roles where there’s an unmet need.”Very notably, this round had participation from Amazon as part of the company’s recently announced $1B Industrial Innovation Fund. Agility is one of the first five recipients of the fund, a milestone investment for a 7-year old company out of rural Oregon started by two Robotics Ph.Ds from Carnegie Mellon.”The purpose of the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund is to support emerging technologies through direct investments, designed to spur invention and solve for the world’s toughest problems across customer fulfillment operations, logistics, and supply chain solutions,” said Katherine Chen, Head of Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund. “Agility’s approach to designing robotics for a blended workforce is truly unique and can have a significant ripple effect for a wide range of industries, and we hope others follow suit to accelerate innovation in this way.”Agility has evolved quickly to focus on true commercial robots that work collaboratively and side-by-side with people in a familiar and non-threatening way. Their robots can easily walk, climb stairs, navigate unstructured environments, carry packages, stack goods, and work indoors or out, all of which are skills that were elusive within robotics development even a short time ago. The company’s robots are now deployed in the factories and warehouses of top U.S. logistics companies, as well as Ford Motor Co. and some of the country’s most elite research institutions, including Ohio and Michigan.The capital raise underscores the continued reliance on automation to drive efficiency, even as the economy grows more turbulent. Faced with a tight labor market and supply chain woes, logistics operations are increasingly relying on automation to fill key gaps, shifting reliance slowly away from human workers.Agility’s most advanced robot will be deployed at customers’ sites later this year. The Series B was led by led by DCVC and Playground Global. More

  • in

    Chipotle launches a tech-focused venture fund

    Written by

    Greg Nichols, Contributor

    Greg Nichols
    Contributor

    Greg Nichols covers robotics, AI, and AR/VR for ZDNet. A full-time journalist and author, he writes about tech, travel, crime, and the economy for global media outlets and reports from across the U.

    Full Bio

    Chipotle
    Some of the most interesting tech development is happening in an unusual space: Fast food. From burger-flipping robots to drone delivery and Amazon-level logistics, the face of fast food is changing quickly. The latest proof? Chipotle has announced a new venture fund called Cultivate Next, which will make early-stage investments into strategically aligned companies.

    Innovation

    Why does a quick-serve chain need a venture fund? I put the question to Chipotle CTO Curt Garner.”Cultivate Next aims to support seed to Series B stage companies that can accelerate our strategic priorities such as running great restaurants,” says Garner, “amplifying technology and innovation, further advancing our Food With Integrity mission, and expanding access and convenience for our consumers.”The subtext is that competition is fierce in fast food, and it pays to be in on the ground floor of technological innovation — a lesson the sector might well have gleaned from Amazon’s ambitious takeover of Kiva Robotics, which was a big key in unlocking Amazon’s logistical competitive advantage.”Cultivate Next allows us to meet consumer and employee preferences that have evolved over the last two years,” says Garner. “We have an aggressive goal of achieving 7,000 restaurants, and technology is the key to accelerating these growth plans.”Also: Are ghost kitchens here to stay?Chipotle is already making headway, teaming up with companies like Miso Robotics on a tortilla chip-making robot, which Chipotle is piloting at select locations. The chain is also testing RFID technology for backend management, which is critical to maintaining quality in a high throughput kitchen. “Chipotle is testing radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to enhance its traceability program and inventory management systems,” says Garner. “Ingredients arrive at Chipotle restaurants affixed with RFID enabled case labels and are scanned by RFID readers. Our RFID program is designed to allow the company to act on food safety and quality concerns swiftly, efficiently, and precisely.”The new venture fund will have an initial size of $50 million and will be financed solely by Chipotle. As funds go, it’s not the biggest, but this is surely a sign of growing competition and white-hot development in an industry largely aided by pandemic-influenced consumer trends but also reeling from an extremely competitive labor market and rising wages. In that regard, it’s a bellwether and sign of lively development in fast food tech.”We are looking to support a wide range of forward-thinking ventures, including those focused on farming, supply chain, employee experience, and advanced robotics.” More

  • in

    FAA is giving commercial drone operators the green light

    Written by

    Greg Nichols, Contributor

    Greg Nichols
    Contributor

    Greg Nichols covers robotics, AI, and AR/VR for ZDNet. A full-time journalist and author, he writes about tech, travel, crime, and the economy for global media outlets and reports from across the U.

    Full Bio

    There can be little doubt that the FAA is paving the way for a framework governing the widespread operation of commercial drones in the U.S. In advance of a definitive ruling on whether commercial drones can operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), the FAA has been busily granting case-by-case permission to drone operators for exactly that.One recent example, just announced, drone company American Robotics has added seven additional sites of operation approved by the FAA for its automated BVLOS drone technology, the Scout System. American Robotics has 10 operational sights across eight U.S. states.”American Robotics is excited to have seven additional sites of operation approved by the FAA. As we continue to build upon our offerings, we look forward to providing current and future customers with the tools needed to unlock scalable, autonomous drone operations that will help propel their businesses and critical industries forward,” says Reese Mozer, co-founder and CEO of American Robotics. “Not only is this a milestone for American Robotics, but it is also another signal that we have reached an inflection point in commercial drone operations in the United States, and American Robotics is proud to be at the forefront of these industry advancements.”Elsewhere in the commercial drone sector, Percepto, which offers autonomous inspection by industrial robotics, recently announced it will deploy autonomous drones to monitor Florida Power & Light’s substations and power distribution grids across the state. The deployment represents the largest commercial autonomous drone project in the world, a staggering feat given the relatively slow pace with which the FAA has moved to adopt a framework.Not surprisingly, both Percepto and American Robotics are on the FAA’s industry-focused BVLOS rulemaking committee, which is tasked with helping the FAA adopt a regulatory framework for wider commercial drone adoption. The companies that invested early in that process are reaping early benefits from their friendly stance toward the FAA. The FAA previously issued a nationwide waiver for Florida Power & Light to fly Percepto drones for surveillance and inspection purposes at sites owned and serviced by FPL. The Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) has provided its regulatory recommendations to fully incorporate highly automated BVLOS operations flights in US national airspace, a process that is expected to take place in the months ahead.For players like Percepto and American Robotics, eventual approval will open the floodgates. The FAA has been very deliberate in its progress (slow in the eyes of some in the sector). “Every step by American Robotics toward full autonomy is significant: autonomous drones provide continuous, real-time information,” says David Boardman, CEO of Stockpile Reports. “With zero touch, high frequency automated data collection, the bulk materials supply chain will be transformed as we can provide answers to enable real-time decisions at any site. This approval is a critical turning point in addressing the market demand for continuous information.” More

  • in

    Jack in the Box turns to robots to solve staffing challenges

    Written by

    Greg Nichols, Contributor

    Greg Nichols
    Contributor

    Greg Nichols covers robotics, AI, and AR/VR for ZDNet. A full-time journalist and author, he writes about tech, travel, crime, and the economy for global media outlets and reports from across the U.

    Full Bio

    Flippy 2.0 prepares curly fries for Jack in the Box.
    Miso Robotics
    A few weeks back my kids went bananas for a robotic server at a local California Pizza Kitchen. For my next feat of parenting magic, I just might stop by Jack in the Box.

    Special feature

    AI, Automation, and Tech Jobs

    There are some things that machines are simply better at doing than humans, but humans still have plenty going for them. Here’s a look at how the two are going to work in concert to deliver a more powerful future for IT, and the human race.

    Read More

    That’s because the company known for its round-headed mascot is piloting a fry cook robot and an automatic beverage dispensing robot, with the potential to further integrate the technology in the months ahead. The robots are from fast food automation company Miso Robotics, and the addition of Jack in the Box to its growing list of pilot customers, which includes major national chains like Chipotle and White Castle, marks a milestone in the whirlwind rise of a crowdfunded company that seems to be effectively giving fast food over to the robots.”Beginning our journey with a premier brand like Jack in the Box is an enormous step in our commitment to helping restaurants increase throughput, reduce costs and create a safer environment for their staff,” says Mike Bell, CEO of Miso Robotics. “From tacos and curly fries to fountain sodas, the future is now for Jack in the Box, and we are ecstatic to serve as the company’s technological arm to assure a quality product gets into its customers hands every time they order.”The story behind the story here is the rapid automation of the quick serve restaurant industry, which is reeling from labor shortages and struggling to keep up with high demand coming out of the worst lockdowns of the pandemic. There’s now a real sense that momentum is shifting toward robotic systems to add greater efficiency to human-led, front-of-house operations.Miso is on a bit of a tear, having recently announced a tortilla chip making robot in partnership with Chipotle, an autonomous coffee brewing station that will be used in Panera locations, and an ever-expanding footprint for its flagship fry cook Flippy 2.0. Automation seems well paired with rising takeout demand during a pandemic-influenced tight labor market. Delivery, takeout, and drive-thru orders in particular have increased the need for speed just as demand is booming, and restaurants are having trouble keeping pace.Jack in the Box is a prime example. In an explanation for integrating Miso, the company cited staffing challenges impacting operating hours and costs. Back-of-house operations improve restaurant-level economics and alleviate the pain points of working in a high-volume commercial kitchen. “This collaboration with Miso Robotics is a steppingstone for our back-of-house restaurant operations. We are confident that this technology will be a good fit to support our growing business needs with intentions of having a positive impact on our operations while promoting safety and comfort to our team members,” said Tony Darden, Chief Operating Officer at Jack in the Box. “We are looking forward to testing Flippy 2 as our new hire at our San Diego location!”Interesting to note, the conversation around automation integration within the quick serve space has in part shifted away from careful couching by robotics firms about how automation enhances employee satisfaction. With the labor market tight, the talking points are shifting more firmly toward issues of efficiency, predictability, and cost savings. Miso is one of the most notable crowdfunding success stories. The company is primarily funded by individual investors and counts over 18,000 shareholders accounting for more than $50MM in crowdfunding to date. More

  • in

    Japan approves Zipline drone medical deliveries

    Zipline
    Residents of Japan’s remote Gotō Islands will have new access to medical supplies. That’s thanks to Japan’s first-ever routine, commercial long-distance drone delivery route.The route comes via a partnership with Toyota Tsusho Corporation, a member of the Toyota Group, and Zipline, a drone logistics company. The rollout is the latest in a long line of international firsts for drone delivery that seems to be pointing toward a nearby future of routinized aerial delivery. Zipline’s fixed-wing drones drop packages via parachute.

    “The Toyota Group has a decades-long track record of excellence across transportation and logistics; now, they’re ready to take on the next frontier of mobility,” said Keller Rinaudo, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. “Together, we’re taking an important step toward unlocking the impact of autonomous instant logistics technology in new use cases, new airspaces and entirely new geographies.” Medical supply deliveries will commence from a distribution center in Fukue Port. Zipline has been setting up similar distribution centers around the world, but this marks the first in Asia as well as the first to be operated by a partner company. That expansion is noteworthy and indicative of the softening regulatory and compliance situation regarding drone delivery in many markets. With the ability to partner and turn over operations of drone delivery services, companies like Zipline are on pace to scale rapidly.The distribution center will be the disembarkation point for medical supplies and drugs to pharmacies and hospitals across the Gotō Islands. Pointedly, these are long-distance flights that will travel beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS). Successful drone delivery depends as much on logistics and backend warehousing capabilities as hardware. Zipline offers end-to-end delivery services.”The Toyota Group has a decades-long track record of excellence across transportation and logistics; now, they’re ready to take on the next frontier of mobility,” said Keller Rinaudo, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. “Together, we’re taking an important step toward unlocking the impact of autonomous instant logistics technology in new use cases, new airspaces and entirely new geographies.”In the U.S., the Beyond Visual Line of Sight Aviation Rulemaking Committee (BVLOS ARC) of the FAA recently published its final report. The committee is charged with paving the way toward broader commercial use of drones in the U.S., and its findings are being widely applauded by many in the sector who have sought a broader scope for commercial drone operations, including in applications like search and rescue and delivery. More