Today if you order something through Postmates, a human will arrive at your doorstep, food in tow. This time next year, a robot might show up in its place. The San Francisco-based delivery company makes around 4 million deliveries every month across 550 cities—most of them through its fleet of car-driving delivery people.
Now it wants to replace—or at the very least, augment—those human workers with Serve, a friendly looking rover that will begin delivering food in Los Angeles in 2019. Serve is a four-wheeled autonomous robot that’s designed to navigate city sidewalks on its quest to deliver goods to your doorstep.
With a body like a shopping cart and a face that vaguely resembles Wall-E, Serve looks intentionally amiable. The little rover, which can carry upwards of 50 pounds of cargo, is packed with sensors including LIDAR, GPS, sonar, and a computer vision camera that helps it get around without causing too much trouble on pedestrian pathways.
According to Postmates, Serve will act as a helpful hand to the company’s human workers, who at this point must drive to a restaurant or store, find parking, pick up the food, drive to the delivery location, and find parking again. All this for what often amounts to a single meal.
Serve aims to reduce the amount of driving involved in delivering a cheeseburger by sending the rover into a store or restaurant and then programming it to hop into a car with a human driver. The driver will then usher the bot to a drop off near the delivery location and Serve will finish the last mile of the trip, saving the human driver time and gas money.
There are plenty of reasons to welcome autonomous rovers to our streets—reduced emissions and faster delivery times, to start—but you can expect that it’s going to take a lot of trial and error (and inevitably some very strange run-ins) before humans and bots can harmoniously share the sidewalks.