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Food delivery robots are growing in popularity, so much so that a recently-release analysis by Market Research Future (MRFR) predicts the market will be worth USD 64.5 million by 2030—a whopping CAGR of over 24%.

Such predictions may come as no surprise.

In addition to their efficiency and potential to address various business challenges, they possess an intentional cuteness that makes those who encounter them somewhat protective. Which means passersby are more than willing to help when needed—especially when they ask for it. Many are even equipped with 4-wheel drive to cope with snowy conditions.

College campuses are proving to be popular territory for food delivery robots.

That’s largely because they offer the kind of convenience busy college students need.

But there’s a vast difference between the more-controlled environment of a college campus and the unpredictability of big-city life.

Fortunately, a recently-released report from the Knight Foundation offers a roadmap for cities that are considering deploying food delivery robots. The report is based on pilots within several cities and reveals several key takeaways to keep in mind.

But before we dig into those, let’s take a look at market dynamics, according to MRFR’s analysis.

Food Delivery Robots: Market Dynamics

An announcement about MRFR’s recently-released report, “Restaurant delivery robot Market: Information by Robot Type, by Service, Restaurant Type, by Load Capacity and Region—Forecast till 2030,” describes the dynamics fueling the robust growth.

“Robot delivery services are considered a long-term solution to advance the delivery ecosystem, offering speed, quality, and scalability,” MRFR said. “Increasing researches in the field show those restaurant delivery robots have tremendous potential to positively impact contactless food delivery while truly solving the labor shortage issues in the hospitality industry.”

Noting that the pandemic created “severe and unexpected challenges on labor shortages globally,” MRFR said more people have turned to restaurant delivery robots for “convenient and fast food delivery services.”

As far as geographical trends, MRFR said:

  • North America “dominates the global restaurant delivery robot market, with a large presence of prominent market players”

  • Europe holds the “second-largest share…”

  • APAC has emerged “as the fastest-growing market…”

Food Delivery Robots: A Roadmap for Cities

In its recently-released report, the Knight Foundation outlined a “roadmap for cities to deploy autonomous delivery technology.”

According to an announcement about the report, “Pilot projects supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation testing the use of autonomous delivery robots in four U.S. cities found the technology works well in controlled environments such as college campuses and identified many opportunities for expansion, but at present, use cases remain limited due to technical and environmental limitations such as the quality of urban infrastructure.”

Citing the role of the pandemic to boost the demand for sidewalk delivery robots, the organization said that although these technologies are garnering a lot of attention, “city officials often don’t have direct experience with them, making regulation and addressing community concerns challenging.”

The Knight Foundation said pilots with Kiwibot in Detroit, Miami-Dade County, Pittsburgh, and San Jose helped those communities “learn more about how autonomous delivery technology works in the real world and utilized a unique community engagement model that provided residents the chance to provide direct feedback about the robots and informed city regulatory practices.”

In the statement, Lilian Coral, director of Knight’s national strategy and technology innovation program said, “Autonomous technology offers tremendous opportunity for progress, but in order to realize its full potential, we must increase testing and pursue intentional strategies to address real community needs. This pilot with Kiwibot established a model community education program so residents understood why these delivery robots were rolling around the city and how they work. This increased excitement and reduced skepticism from residents and local business partners alike, while also allowing government agencies to partner and learn more about the technology and its impact on the community.

We think this is a roadmap for how to deploy autonomous technology in cities across the country.”

Takeaways from the report include:

  • The technology works in controlled settings and was deployed safely. “There were no reported pedestrian safety incidents in more than 3,000 completed trips during the pilots. Where the robots struggled with delivery, it was often due to lack of ADA accessible infrastructure, such as overgrown trees and blocked or broken sidewalks – the same infrastructure impediments that also impact residents safely getting around cities in their everyday lives. Investment by both the private and public sector in this shared infrastructure is required to scale autonomous delivery.”

  • Current use cases are limited, but there are many opportunities for expansion in urban environments. “Today, the robots have a delivery range of 1-1.5 miles. As a result, some small businesses were hesitant to deliver their products via robots since many deliveries require a longer distance. At this point, the technology works well in places like college campuses but runs into challenges where accessible infrastructure can’t be guaranteed.”

  • Demonstrations and community engagement were essential to addressing the public’s skepticism and sparking curiosity. “The pilots engaged residents in every city — from demonstrations at farmers markets to public meetings. The most common sentiments were curiosity about the robots and anxiety around the safety of the technology, privacy, and potential impact to jobs. Public engagements identified clear potential beneficial use cases (such as: helping people with disabilities get deliveries or reducing travel time on smaller trips like lunch breaks) – some of which the technology is ready to do today, and others which would require more testing and refinement.”

  • There is a need for more willing private sector partners to pilot autonomous products. “Kiwibot was an active and willing partner in this city-led effort and worked hand-in-hand with cities and communities to drive results. If autonomous technology wants to truly fill community needs, more public-private partnerships and evaluations are needed.”

  • AV delivery regulation at the city-level provides necessary flexibility. “Cities benefit from exposure to the technology and hands-on collaboration with private companies while challenges with this technology are being resolved. At this time, it would be challenging to enact state-level regulations that are flexible and enforceable enough when states have little to no exposure to the technology and what it can or cannot do.”

According to the announcement, the Knight Foundation launched the $5.25 million initiative in 2018 “to engage local residents around autonomous technologies to ensure they reflect community input and meet local needs.” Funding supported the pilots in four cities, with technical assistance and evaluation provided by Cityfi and University of Oregon’s Urbanism Next Center.

Read the full report here.

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