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Austin Transportation Department testing delivery bots on South Congress

The testing comes after a city council resolution passed a few years ago asking City staff to explore robotic delivery models.

AUSTIN, Texas — Don't worry, robots are not invading South Congress Avenue – at least not yet!

On Monday, the Austin Transportation Department said crews were out testing a fleet of 10 personal delivery devices throughout the district and surrounding neighborhoods to assist with "last-mile deliveries."

The department said the three-wheeled devices are owned and operated by a private company called Refraction AI. This company launched a similar service in Michigan in 2019.

The devices are about 2.5 feet wide, 4.5 feet tall and 4.5 long, which is about the size of a person riding a bicycle. They use a combination of sensors and cameras, with a remote operator maintaining supervision of them at all times.

Currently, a member of Refraction AI's team has been accompanying each robot through each stage of its journey. The department said these workers are happy to answer any questions about the robots if they are spotted out and about.

"The arrival of this type of delivery robot follows several years of action by City and state leaders, beginning with a City Council resolution in May 2017," the department said in a release. "At the time, the Council asked staff 'to explore the robotic delivery model,' which was followed with a complementary resolution in August 2017 to outline parameters for the operation of a pilot program. State law enacted in 2019 provides parameters for personal delivery devices, including a 20 mph speed limit while operating on the shoulder of a roadway and requiring an operator to be within 25 feet of the device when it's in motion."

Refraction AI has worked with Austin Transportation officials to ensure compliance with both state and local laws ahead of launch. Refraction AI is not required to seek permits to operate in the right of way and the City of Austin is not funding its operation in any way.


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