Refraction AI, a last-mile delivery platform and robotics company launched in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has expanded to deliver food in Austin, Texas.

Southside Flying Pizza will be the first Austin business to use Refraction AI’s fleet of 10 Rev-1 robots for automated delivery. Customers will have the option to have the Rev-1 deliver their food with a unique code to unlock the order. Notifications are provided throughout transit. The Rev-1 robots primarily use bike lanes and can carry up to six grocery bags at a time.

In an interview with FreightWaves, Luke Schneider, the CEO of Refraction AI, explained why the company chose Austin for its second location. 

“Austin is a bigger tier city compared to Ann Arbor,” he said. “The way Austin is structured as a city is more spread out and pretty much designed by transportation engineers. Austin has many neighborhoods which are really well suited for last-mile delivery automation, especially in the restaurant and retail space.” 

The company was founded in 2019 by Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan, who aimed to build a more practical last-mile delivery robot using a combination of cameras, ultrasound sensors and millimeter wave radar that could accurately judge all weather conditions.

Refraction AI raised $4.2 million in March to expand its footprint and has opened an office in Austin, looking to house new product development and engineering roles.

Schneider explained that while the company does offer a cost-efficient, ready-for-market robot, Refraction AI’s focus is to learn and perfect the deployment process of a robot fleet, compared to the robotic technology itself.

“We’re not an IP company trying to figure out how to patent autonomous technology. We’re trying to deploy a fleet and do volume deliveries and learn more about that than anybody else in the autonomous space,” he said. “It seems like a nuanced difference, but in reality there’s so much that we learn every time we bring on a new customer or deliver different products.”

While many robotics companies are investing heavily in building autonomous technology, Refraction focuses on building demand for delivery robots.

“The demand side requires recruiting customers and channel partners, but also building technology to integrate into the fabric of the restaurants including point of sale systems,” Schneider said. “This is the difference between building a really great IP and building a really great distribution network.”

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