Meet Geoffrey, the cutest food delivery robot and celebrity in downtown Toronto

An invasion of food delivery robots will expand, adding a new wrinkle to the concert economy

Geoffrey at work in downtown Toronto (Photograph by Christie Vuong)

Geoffrey at work in downtown Toronto (Photograph by Christie Vuong)

Imagine a future powered by artificial intelligence in which human workers are at the mercy of mechanical overlords. Or a cyberpunk vision of cyborgs and automated flying cars, a chrome rhapsody. Or a stark apocalypse where the machines rage against us.

The meta-human heroes and robot villains of such fantasies probably look nothing like Geoffrey, a light pink delivery robot with hearts for eyes who has begun to prowl the sidewalks of downtown Toronto, and which urban dwellers should expect to see more in 2022 and beyond.

Geoffrey is so cute that humans stop him in his tracks to bend over and take selfies. Despite thousands of hours of engineering to make sure pint-sized vehicles can accurately “see” with their cameras and GPS systems to avoid disturbing pedestrians, it is humans who disturb robots.

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“Nobody is afraid. People slow down just to pose with the robots. That, in a sense, is causing a disruption, ”says Ignacio Tartavull, founder and CEO of Tiny Mile, a startup that wants to revolutionize messaging services in the city center. “We should make it a little uglier in the future.”

(Photograph by Christie Vuong)

If the Geoffreys had plans to take over the world, this would be a promising start.

But as Tartavull sees it, Geoffrey’s net impact should be a benefit to humans, maximizing profits for restaurants and other small businesses that have struggled with money and workers during the pandemic. In October, the company launched an API (application programming interface) that can be integrated with Shopify, allowing businesses in downtown Toronto to use Geoffreys to serve customers.

Although Tartavull hopes that vendors will adopt the new system, customers can also order through Uber Eats: A dispatcher informs them that food is arriving by robot, and Geoffrey unlocks and opens when the customer texts the customer. delivery number, or show it to the built robot. -on camera. Tartavull claims that shipping costs are about 10 times lower than other services.

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Geoffrey is not yet fully autonomous and still requires human operators, which has quelled some concerns about job losses that could herald further automation. Jennifer Scott, president of Gig Workers United in Toronto, sympathizes with the knee-jerk reaction, but says “there will still be jobs.” They can be only in construction, repair and manufacturing, rather than in delivery. “Let’s make sure all the workers who easily hide in this conversation don’t end up in a precarious position,” adds Scott.

(Photograph by Christie Vuong)

When asked about those fears, Tartavull responds that there is a shortage of delivery workers anyway and that robots only make sense in downtown areas where sidewalks are plentiful and distances are short. In the suburbs and rural areas, human emails make a lot more sense.

So far, Tartavull adds, there have been several thousand successful deliveries. Geoffrey is stable enough to carry drinks without spilling and can work in cold weather. It also boasts decent security from porch pirates – its lid opens only with the recipient’s permission, while a siren will sound if someone tries to run away with it. Which, let’s be honest, would be pretty eye-catching.

READ: Will we use drones as flying taxis? Canadians intervene.

At the end of October, there were only 19 vehicles in Geoffreys’ fleet, named after the University of Toronto machine learning guru Geoffrey Hinton. But Tiny Mile expects to have 200 up and running by early 2023. The company has partnered with Bell for 5G connectivity and says it is in talks with potential big partners like Indigo and Tim Hortons, as it looks to expand to Chicago, Boston, Vancouver. Montreal and Ottawa.

When it comes to those last two cities, the catastrophists among us have little to worry about in the way of robot dominance: Geoffrey can only handle 12cm of snow, which means the engineers at Tiny Mile will have to deal with a completely different kind of slippery slope. .

(Photograph by Christie Vuong)

This article appears in print in the January 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the title “Meals on beautiful wheels”. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

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