Outdoor delivery robot service begins in Korea

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The days of awkwardly fumbling for change to tip a take-away driver appear to be numbered, following the introduction of a fleet of outdoor robots to deliver food fresh from restaurants to customers in an apartment complex in Korea. The new offer will see reduced delivery fees for customers and higher revenues for restaurant owners.

Woowa Brothers Corp, the parent company that runs ‘Baedal Minjok’ (‘Baemin’), began its unique delivery service using its ‘Dilly Drive’ self-driving outdoor delivery robots on 18 August, at Gwanggyo Alley Way – a multipurpose housing complex in Gwanggyo, Suwon city, Korea.

Gwanggyo Alley Way’s 1,100 residents simply choose the menu and make orders from the restaurants and cafes within their complex by just opening the Baemin app and scanning the relevant QR codes from the comfort of their home. Orders can also be made at the plaza within the complex, using QR codes placed on outdoor tables. The service is available to both residents and visitors.

Upon receiving an order, up to five robots travel autonomously from the station to the restaurant, where staff place the food inside the robot before pressing the ‘go’ button, to start the delivery. Customers can check the current location of their Dilly Drive robot via the Baemin app and receive notifications 100m before and upon arrival. Customers can receive food either on the ground floor of the building or at the designated outdoor table in the plaza.

Featuring six wheels, each Dilly Drive robot travels at a speed of 4-5km per hour, which is the speed of a person walking. Once charged, it can run for more than eight hours, while integrated headlights ensure it can deliver at night as well. Dilly Drive can carry about six lunch boxes or 12 cups of beverages per delivery.

Dilly Drive safety considerations

Outdoor self-driving robots have to detect the subtle movements of not only cars and bicycles but also children and companion animals, and can only be commercialised when they operate stably even on bumpy roads and ever-changing weather conditions.

As such, the company has thoroughly examined the road condition and travel habits of residents in the complex, and set Dilly Drive to go slowly in parts where there are crowds or children. At crosswalks with a lot of cars, Dilly Drive comes to a stop, and its safety has been enhanced with the real-time control via the video surveillance system installed at the apartment complex. For the first month of service, Dilly Drive will run from 11.00-15.00 during weekdays, before its hours of operation are gradually extended.

In November 2019, Woowa Brothers conducted a month-long pilot test in Konkuk University campus to commercialise Dilly Drive. The pilot test saw the robots carry out more than 2,000 deliveries, while improving its service quality. And from last June, Woowa Brothers has been working together with SK Telecom to conduct tests to build the control system crucial to outdoor delivery robot service.

For now, Dilly Drive can only self drive from the restaurant to the ground floor of an apartment, but the company plans to enable delivery right to the door in the first half of 2021.

Each robot can run for more than eight hours, carrying six lunch boxes or 12 cups of beverages per delivery

Each robot can run for more than eight hours, carrying six lunch boxes or 12 cups of beverages per delivery

Revenue boost

The outdoor delivery robot service via Dilly Drive represents a new source of income for restaurant and café owners. Until now, customers were reluctant to make close-range deliveries due to delivery fees. Since robots carry out close-range deliveries at half the existing delivery fee, owners can now expect new sales revenue.

Outdoor delivery robot service includes a lot more obstacles that interrupt the robot’s drive, such as the road surface, obstacles, the weather, unexpected events, and so on,” said Joseph Kim, head of Robot Business Development at Woowa Brothers. “It can be commercialized when sophisticated technology and service know-hows come together. Woowa Brothers will continue the development of delivery robot service for advanced delivery ecosystem.”

Woowa Brothers, which operates South Korea’s most popular food delivery platform, ‘Baedal Minjok’ has also recently launched ‘B Mart’, a service that delivers groceries under 30 minutes, to expand its line of business. Since the company first launched the app in 2010, it has grown to attract 10 million monthly active users while achieving KRW 8.7 trillion in yearly transactions last year.

The trend for ‘contactless’ delivery has accelerated in recent months, driven by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen a rise in home working lead to a surge in food delivery demand coupled with a desire for less human interaction.

Image source: Woowa Brothers Corp

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