Robot food delivery

A large SUV steers around a delivery robot running along the road in Section 9, located in the Brickell area of Miami.

MIAMI — The future is here — and it is rolling through Miami’s Brickell neighborhood delivering dinner.

Miami-based REEF has officially launched a robot delivery service, using Miami’s urban core to test bringing food orders from its network of delivery-only kitchens, also called ghost kitchens. REEF is partnering with Mountain View, Calif.-based robot designers Cartken on the rollout. Anyone within a three-quarters-of-a-mile radius of Brickell and downtown Miami could be on the receiving end of a robotic courier. For now, customers can’t choose whether they get a robot. But consumers who order from a REEF partner brand like Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash or GrubHub might find themselves prompted with the option for one.

For those who do get droid delivery, here’s how it works: When the bot arrives at a house or apartment building, it waits outside and sends a text message alerting the customer that the delivery has arrived. While it makes its delivery, the robot’s compartment is locked so that no one but the recipient can access the food. The robots’ sensors and cameras help them navigate busy sidewalks and street crosswalks as well as over steps and curbs.

The cost and time to receive the order is the same as if you were ordering from a plain old human worker — now in short supply due to the pandemic.

“Delivery continues to be the driving force behind supporting many of our beloved restaurants while staying safe during this pandemic,” Matt Lindenberger, Chief Technology Officer at REEF, said in a statement. “However, the rising demand for delivery has created a bottleneck during peak dining hours that slows efficiency. We’re looking at our robot delivery service as a long-term solution that can advance the delivery ecosystem by offering speed, quality and scale while reducing congestion and carbon emission.”

The bots will deliver orders from REEF’S Miami partner brands, including Della Bowls, Krispy Rice, Genuine Burger, Fuku, Mamma Parmigiana, BurgerFi, Michy B’s, Van Leeuwen and Sam’s Crispy Chicken.

REEF, founded in 2013 as ParkJockey by entrepreneurs Ari Ojalvo and Umut Tekin, became a billion-dollar “unicorn” in December 2018 when it raised an undisclosed sum from a syndicate led by tech conglomerate SoftBank; that company’s COO, Miami-based Marcelo Claure, recently talked up REEF as an example of Miami’s potential as a tech hub. In November, REEF raised an additional investment round of $1 billion from SoftBank, Emirates-based Mubadala Capital, and Oaktree Capital Management.

While other U.S. communities already enjoy robot catering, REEF could end up ushering in the first mass rollout of the technology. The company says it plans to deploy in other locations in the coming weeks; it currently lists more than 1,000 open job roles nationwide on its website.

“We’re proud to be ground zero for this type of exciting and forward-thinking innovation that will help reduce congestion and carbon emissions — not just in Miami, but cities around the world,” said City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in a statement.