WATCH — Tiny delivery robot being tested in Toronto

CBC Kids News • Published 2020-11-24 15:06

Challenges include dogs, construction and falling off the curb

When Geoffrey cruises through the streets of Toronto doing food deliveries, the little guy often has to stop for selfies.

Why? Well, Geoffrey isn’t your typical delivery person. In fact, he’s a robot — a robot that’s powered by a video game controller and a laptop.

Maryann Matias, who helps pilot Geoffrey for Toronto company Tiny Mile AI, said she tries to use her controller to give Geoffrey a personality.

“I like to make him friendly and even a little quirky,” she said. “Doing the little robot dance is kind of my favourite way of interacting with people.”

Aside from cheering people up, the company’s goal is to make it cheaper — and better for the environment — to order takeout.

Maryann Matias holds gaming controller while looking at laptop.

Geoffrey is equipped with a camera and GPS navigation system so pilots like Maryann Matias can use her controller to help him avoid obstacles on city sidewalks. (Image credit: tinymiledelivery/Instagram)

How does it work?

There are actually two Geoffreys — and four more in development. They’re still in the testing stages, which means they only do a few deliveries a day for Toronto restaurants.

Restaurant staff bring the food out to the sidewalk and wave to the camera so that the controller knows to unlock Geoffrey’s storage box.

On the other end, the controller unlocks the robot after the customer shows the camera the order number on their phone.

Click play to watch Geoffrey in action! 

The company charges a flat rate of $6 a delivery, split evenly between the customer and the restaurant, instead of a percentage on each delivery.

This makes Geoffrey cheaper to use than many other delivery services, said chef Tanya Spasic, who’s been experimenting with the service for her restaurant Animal Liberation Kitchen.

Because the robots have rechargeable batteries instead of gas or diesel motors, they don’t produce exhaust the way a typical delivery vehicle would.

“A few years from now it's going to sound ridiculous that we used a car to carry a burrito,” said company founder Ignacio Tartavull.

Wires and circuitry inside robot.

The robot’s food compartment is locked during deliveries and unlocked remotely when it arrives at its destination. (Image credit: tinymiledelivery/Instagram)

The challenges

Of course, Geoffrey has faced some challenges during the testing phase, including encounters with dogs, navigating construction sites and crashing right off the curb.

Then there’s the concern that Geoffrey might take jobs away from people.

Tartavull said the existence of delivery robots could wipe out low-paying delivery jobs for people, but the trade-off is higher-paying jobs for people in the robotics industry.

He said the ultimate goal is to expand across Toronto and eventually make tiny pink robots an everyday sight in other cities as well.

With files from Angelina King/CBC


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