There are new arrivals on the streets of Dubai Silicon Oasis this week as the UAE’s first food delivery robots take their first orders.
After a successful trial during Expo2020, seven of the “talabot” autonomous robots will serve about 300 homes across a specific residential district for the first time.
The project is part of a three-month pilot programme by online food ordering company Talabat, Dubai Roads and Transport Authority and Dubai Integrated Economic Zones Authority to improve options for delivery services.
Collecting from Starbucks, Oregano and Lebanese restaurant On the Wood at Cedre Villas community centre, customers can now order robot-delivered food which typically takes up to 15 minutes to arrive.
“We have had to start small as we can’t serve all the homes and restaurants, but this is the next test outside of Expo,” said Maria Estevan, director of special projects at Talabat.
“The technology showed people were engaging with the robots but now we need to take it outside of a controlled environment.”
Fitted with radar and lidar operating systems, the delivery robots are well equipped to deal with other vehicles, kerbs and even an inquisitive stray cat.
Talabots will only operate inside a gated community within a 4.8km radius of the restaurants, but will share road space with other everyday traffic.
Customers can order via the Talabat app and track their delivery.
Stored securely inside a temperature-controlled unit, the robots can operate in all weathers and withstand the extreme summer heat of the UAE.
Once delivered, customers can open the robot to collect their order by using a unique access code.
If all goes well, it is hoped the service can be expanded and contribute to Dubai’s plan for one in four of all road trips to be autonomous by 2030.
The project is a direct result of the RTA’s Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport, under the category of “Self-driving Logistical Services”, which includes ground transport and drones.
Artificial Intelligence deployed in the talabots safeguards people’s identity by blurring faces, with no facial recognition detection.
To blend in peacefully within the community, the robots are fitted with multiple inbuilt sensors and algorithms that gauge surroundings and detect barriers in their path, keeping a safe distance from toddlers and pets.
Plans to expand fleet
The robots do not belong to Talabat, but are fully insured in the unlikely event of a collision or damage to property.
“If someone accidentally hits the robot, there will be a usual insurance claim as if two cars hit each other,” said Ms Estevan.
“Our customers will get used to seeing the talabots on the streets every day.
“We are serious about scaling this up, it is not branding and we are looking at how we can optimise our fleet.
“It will cover short, medium and long distances with robots, delivery riders and drones.
“DSO has notified residents about this, and we are collaborating together for this to work.
“This will last at least three months, and then we will see.”