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Your next Chick-fil-A delivery could come via robot

The chicken sandwich chain said it is testing autonomous delivery robots in a limited number of locations in California, Texas and Florida.
Chick-fil-a delivery robot
Photograph: Shutterstock

The latest restaurant chain to test robot delivery is … Chick-fil-A?

Indeed, the Atlanta-based chicken sandwich chain on Tuesday said it is testing autonomous robot delivery at a limited number of locations in California, Texas and Florida.

The robots, the company said, could over time cut delivery costs and improve operations.

Chick-fil-A said it is researching and developing the technology to work in a variety of environments, including mall food courts and urban locations.

“The autonomous vehicles have been instrumental in growing awareness of delivery at my restaurant,” Luke Steigmeyer, operator of a Chick-fil-A in Austin, Texas, said in a statement. He said that the awareness has allowed him to reach more customers.

Chick-fil-A is working in partnership with the Austin-based company Refraction AI on the autonomous delivery effort. Steigmeyer’s location will sometimes use the robots to deliver orders within 1 mile of the restaurant. A worker loads the meal onto the vehicle and sends it on its way.

The robots are equipped with artificial intelligence systems and depth-perception cameras that enable them to navigate traffic, pedestrians and maneuver through care and bike lanes, busy malls and sidewalks. They can travel up to 15 miles, though “safety chasers” follow them on deliveries to ensure a smooth process and answer questions.

The robots are insulated and can navigate themselves to the drop-off spot. Customers get a text when the robot arrives with instructions for retrieving the order.

“Where and how you consume your Chick-fil-A meal based on your daily needs is constantly changing,” John Featherston, senior director of new ventures for the chain, said in a statement. “We want to learn how to extend our hospitality from our restaurants to meet you where you are.”

A number of restaurant chains have tested autonomous robot delivery, notably the pizza chain Domino’s, which has gone so far as to advertise the Nuro delivery robot it has used in Houston.

Chick-fil-A, meanwhile, has quietly become one of the most innovative restaurant chains in the U.S. when it comes to delivery and the use of ghost kitchens. The company already has self-delivery in some locations and has created its own virtual kitchens in Nashville under the banner “Little Blue Menu.”

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