Toronto sidewalks could soon be taken over by swarms of adorable little robots
You may have seen cute little pastel-pink robots navigating sidewalks over the past year, the product of Toronto tech startup Tiny Mile.
Well, you're about to see a whole lot more of these micro-delivery robots, with the company eyeing an ambitious expansion that will bring a dozen and a half of these cute contraptions to city streets by the end of the year, and a swarm of 200 within 18 months.
But don't worry, they have hearts for eyes, so we're probably not all going to get turned into bio-batteries like Keanu in The Matrix.
The brainchild of engineers Ignacio Tartavull and Gellert Mattyus, Tiny Mile was conceived at Ryerson's Design Fabrication Zone back in 2019 and unleashed its first robots on Toronto last spring, just when people were starting to need innovative food delivery options more than ever.
"Only one out of ten restaurants are making a profit now, and 8 out of 10 restaurants went into debt in the last few months," Tartavull tells blogTO.
"Restaurants employ over two million people in Canada, so this is a serious problem. On top of that, delivery is expensive. Restaurants pay between 20 and 40 per cent commission to cover the $10-$12 that delivery costs."
Tiny Mile's robots all go by the name Geoffrey (a nod to godfather of artificial intelligence Geoffrey Hinton) though they use gender-neutral pronouns of they/them. Eleven Geoffreys have been built since the company was founded, with five retired and six currently active delivering eats on Toronto streets.
Each of the pint-sized rovers weighs about 13 lbs, roughly the same as a bowling ball, and travels at speeds of up to 6 km/h, about the speed of an average pedestrian.
Participating restaurants — six are currently signed on with demand growing — allow the option of robot delivery on food delivery apps. One of TinyMile's little drones is then driven remotely by a human driver using a gaming console controller, starting from a centralized location, moving on to the pickup location, and finally to the customer.
With a business model that charges a flat rate of $4 per order, Tiny Mile cuts costs for restaurants by taking human couriers out of the mix, which cost about three times the price per delivery.
"We have been able to decrease costs to $4, which would help enormously to make restaurants profitable again," says Tartavull.
Cutting costs is merely one of the goals, while another is to eliminate as many cars making deliveries from city streets as possible.
Getting ahead of any concerns over these little curiosities clogging up pedestrian lanes, Tartavull says that "there are a lot of people on the streets, so 200 robots won't increase congestion even a fraction of a per cent."
Bringing a horde of delivery robots to Toronto is a lofty goal, but Tiny Mile has even grander aspirations ahead, Tartavull saying that "we want to reach 200 robots in Toronto and then start working on four new cities; two in the United States and two in Canada."
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