Delivery robots are emerging to fill the gaps as labor shortages drag on
As U.S. businesses continue to grapple with ongoing labor shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who have left the workforce over the past few years may never return.
Now robots are starting to fill empty roles that humans have left behind.
Autonomous delivery robots are popping up in hotels, airports and other public spaces as labor-strapped businesses increasingly rely on emerging technologies to support services.
Ritukar Vijay, co-founder and CEO of robot maker Ottonomy.IO, says his company’s products don’t replace workers at all, but rather fill gaps to help companies and consumers.
“We are not replacing people because the fact is that the labor shortage is so great that there is already a staffing crisis with our current clients,” Vijay told FOX Business. “What’s happening is we’re empowering minimal staff to do more and making sure the end customer isn’t paying for the extra service.”
Ottonomy’s delivery robots can maneuver through crowds indoors and outdoors, delivering food, parcels or equipment in compartments the size of a standard shopping cart.
Ottonomy has customers in Europe, the Middle East and North America, including the US and Canada. The company has had a live service operating at CVG Airport serving Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky for the past six months or so, allowing flyers to order food and retail items from an app and have them delivered to their gate.
Of the 2,000 deliveries made by the Autobots at CVG, there have been no safety incidents to date. The technology will soon be available at airports in Philadelphia and Rome.
Vijay says his firm has also conducted pilots with several of the largest US retailers, offering customers a contactless curbside pickup experience coordinated by an app where robots deliver orders to customers’ vehicles.
Ottonomy offers its robots through a subscription model called Robotics as a Service (RaaS), which the company says is more efficient, safer and cheaper than traditional third-party delivery services. Vijay said the company gives its customers a return on investment from the first month of installation, up to nearly 50% of what delivery services would otherwise cost.
Although delivery bots can communicate with humans through a screen that displays various information and even a speaker to send audio messages, Vijay says don’t expect to see a human serving diners at a sit-down restaurant any time soon.
“Serving is a completely different experience,” he explained, noting that people entering the restaurant “want to experience the warmth of service.”
Robots can’t offer that – yet.