This Thursday, the on-demand delivery company DoorDash's human couriers will begin working alongside a new type of coworker: robots.
DoorDash is putting a small fleet of six-wheeled delivery robots into action for the first time in Redwood City, California, following weeks of tests. The robots, built by a company called Starship Technologies, are about the size of a golden retriever and roll around sidewalks with relative ease. They'll be used to lug food from restaurants to customers on short-distance orders spanning anywhere from one to two miles.
Automation has emerged as a critical issue in the US following a 2016 election that focused largely on jobs and plans to save them. Though a significant amount of attention has been directed towards autonomous driving as a potential job killer, specifically for long-haul trucking, delivery robots appear poised to go mainstream much sooner.
Asked whether robots would replace human "Dashers," DoorDash cofounder and chief product officer Stanley Tang told BuzzFeed News that the company sees the 'bots as a complement, not replacement. "We’ve found that the robots are better suited to the smaller, short-distance orders that Dashers often avoid, thereby freeing up Dashers to fulfill the bigger and more complex deliveries that often result in more money for them," he said.
DoorDash is putting six delivery robots into action in California with plans to expand elsewhere in the US. The company recently started testing the robots in Washington, DC. And robot-maker Starship Technologies is currently working with Postmates, another on-demand delivery company, to add robot deliveries to its service too.
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
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