Snack-vending robots show up in San Francisco parks

A Mountain View-based company called Tortoise has started sending snack-vending robots to San Francisco parks, including Dolores Park, Golden Gate Park and the Embarcadero. While the company’s headquarters are in the Bay Area, its launch is worldwide and robots are expected to show up in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Denver, Dallas, San Diego, Santa Cruz, South Carolina, and Missouri offering everything from electronics to pastries.

The company’s co-founder, Dmitry Shevelenko explained, “We had a remote control grocery delivery robot, and we were deploying that in a bunch of different markets. We saw the same thing happening again and again — whenever the robot would be parked, people would walk up to it and talk to the robot and interact with it.”

When a shopper places an order with the tap-to-pay card reader, the compartment is opened with some help from the robot’s remote controller, who could be located almost anywhere in the world, monitoring the robot and playing audio messages to assist the customer.

It requires your credit card information before it will release the contents, which is why most people only take what they need. It also features a camera that is visible from all angles. Shevelenko noted, “We’ve done hundreds of transactions, and there hasn’t been a single person who’s taken more than one box.”

An Oakland bakery called Bake Sum is one of Tortoise’s first clients. Owner Joyce Tang met Shevelenko working at Facebook and said every time the bakery has employed it, they sold out. The robot has also been positioned in front of Bake Sum after normal business hours to sell pastry boxes, which allows them to increase their revenue during the continued labor shortage.

However, fear of robots stealing jobs has been growing more acute as machines have started to encroach on a greater portion of daily life, especially since COVID-19. In the past, San Francisco hasn’t been friendly to robots, prohibiting them from most sidewalks and strictly limiting the number of delivery bots allowed in the city in 2017.

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