The self-driving robot delivery startup raises $ 4.2 million to expand in Ann Arbor

ANN ARBOR, MI – Ann Arbor-based delivery robot developer Refraction AI has raised $ 4.2 million in seed capital.

In 2019, the company created the REV-1 robot, a lightweight, self-propelled robot that provides groceries and groceries to residents of Ann Arbor. Customers can order deliveries at Cafe Zola, Miss Kim, The Jagged Fork, Rays Red Hots, Tios Mexican Cafe and Tequila Bar, Wolverine Sushi Bar, Zingermans Delikatessen and the Produce Station.

Ann Arbor autonomous grocery delivery service

Refraction AI’s robot fleet grew from eight in the summer of 2020 to currently 25, said spokeswoman Kira Cooper in an email. And the company is expanding into Texas in April, said Luke Schneider, CEO.

“We want there to be hundreds or thousands of robots. We want to be everywhere, ”said Schneider, who took over the role in September 2020 and was formerly managing director of Zipcar and Silvercar. “We’re going to be opening shortly in Austin … this will be our second office in the heart of the South Congress.”

Schneider did not reveal details about the use of robots in Austin, but said they will be hiring employees in Austin “to support the growth of the emerging business.”

The funds led by Pillar VC will be used for customer acquisition, product development and geographic expansion. However, the company has not yet announced where else it will expand. The company is committed to solving this “last mile delivery” by charging restaurants less than other grocery delivery companies.

“Through the customer’s journey, you have to map out what their psychology is, how they feel about it. Every time you do something different people have to say, “This is different, I don’t like it, it’s weird.” We do a lot of communication, ”said Schneider. “It disarms people and spreads the situation a bit. When the robot shows up, a lot doesn’t make it appear strange. We don’t send R2D2 to deliver your pizza. This is non-contact, you don’t have to have a person standing in front of you in a pandemic. “

The company grew during the coronavirus pandemic, shipping four times as many orders in Ann Arbor. Customers ordered everything from meals, medicines, and groceries. Using a contactless robot also means fewer vehicles and emissions, Schneider added.

Robots deliver four times as many food orders in Ann Arbor during the coronavirus crisis

“It is based on a bicycle frame and meets the classifications for an e-bike. It drives on the edge of the road. It’s low in mass and not very fast, but certainly two or three times as fast as a street robot. We can deliver food before it gets cold a great distance away, ”said Schneider.

The company’s vision is not to create autonomous “high-end” vehicles to deliver “engagement rings” or something luxurious, but rather to be a sustainable device to fill the last mile of transportation for various everyday goods.

“Its cheap. You can deliver almost anything with it, ”said Schneider. “It’s about removing carbon-based fuel sources from the streets. Over the years we’ve subscribed to this paradigm that last mile delivery is for people who drive gas-powered cars. “

Each robot costs $ 4,000 and is used primarily on wet, dry, or icy roads with speed limits of 20-25 mph.

“With tremendous potential to shape the future of last mile delivery, Refraction AI is incredibly well positioned to have their solution up and running today,” said Jamie Goldstein, founder of Pillar VC, in a press release.

“We believe that refractive AI will set the de facto standard for this rapidly growing category. The combination of technology, dynamism and leadership skills sets the company ready to remove barriers to AV for any business, which in turn improves access to goods for households who need them. “

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