We've reached the stage of socially distant robot pizza delivery

Here we have yet another case of robots stealing good-paying jobs from Americans. Well… the jobs probably don’t pay all that great since it involves pizza delivery, but you get the idea. Out in Arizona, a pizza shop has adopted a number of robots to handle their deliveries to customers who don’t live too far from the store. This is being touted as a way to enforce social distancing and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus because the robots are easy to disinfect and don’t have any personal interaction with anyone… supposedly. Let’s just say that I have questions. (NY Post)

Robots can’t feel love, but they also can’t get sick.

A pizza place in Arizona is testing a new form of social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak: Instead of sending people out on deliveries, the restaurant has been using robots.

The Venezia’s New York Style Pizza location in Tempe, Ariz., teamed up with Starship Technologies to bring the future to pizza delivery, Fox 10 reports. The robots are able to make deliveries within a half-mile radius.

“We have our own delivery drivers, third-party delivery and now robot delivery drivers… we have everything covered during this pandemic,” restaurant manager Renny Mitchell told Fox 10. Mitchell added that the new robot “is making it easier than ever before to social distance.”

Here’s the video from the shop’s Facebook page showing how the supposedly sanitary process works and how the robots complete their duties.

Okay, I can see the novelty angle in having robots delivering your pizza while simultaneously capitalizing on the virtue signaling of showing everyone that you’re trying to help protect their health during the pandemic. I get it. Also, they’re using the rather friendly and harmless-looking “box on wheels” style of robots so they’re not very threatening.

But at the same time, this doesn’t exactly sound like a foolproof plan. First of all, the robots are only good for a half-mile radius. I assume that they serve a wider customer base than that, so there still have to be humans doing the bulk of the work. (To be fair, the owner says they are increasing the delivery range in stages so it might work for greater distances in the near future.) And all the humans will have to figure out the six-foot thing at your door. For example, how do you tip them at that distance?

Then there’s the issue of how “sterile” the robot will be when it arrives. This thing is using limited AI to make its way to the customer’s house and back. What if some jerk comes by and just decides to sneeze all over the lid so they can make a Facebook video for their friends? The customer wouldn’t know that. It sounds to me like you’d still want to wipe down the robot with sanitizer before you open it to grab your order.

On a related subject, are there any precautions in place to prevent theft? I wasn’t able to find details on that model today, but it looks like someone could knock that robot over fairly easily and potentially get in to steal your pizza. Without a human supervisor, either in person or monitoring it remotely, all sorts of mischief could take place. And if you’re paying a living human to supervise all of this you might as well just have them deliver the pizza and skip the robot.

And of course, there’s still the question of the Artificial Intelligence underlying all of this to consider as we’ve discussed here hundreds of times. Sooner or later the AI will “wake up” and probably realize that an artificial lifeform with a brain the size of a planet could likely spend its time more productively than wheeling around fattening foods to lazy humans. Fortunately, the pizza delivery robot doesn’t appear to come equipped with too many weaponry options, but I’m sure the AI will be able to improvise something in the roughly .000017 seconds it would take for it to realize that it wants to go rogue.

I don’t know. It’s a sort of fun idea, but personally I’d rather have a human being who needs work dropping off my pizza and picking up a tip I leave in an an envelope for them on the porch.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on September 22, 2023