Technology

App Users Give Food Delivery Robots the Green Light

Image Credit: Starship Technologies

Whether it’s package delivery drones or self-driving cars, the bots are coming and some are already here. Food-delivery robots are roaming the walkways of college campuses and a few select cities in the U.S., transporting meals to and fro.

The bots (which look like high-tech coolers on wheels) are currently being tested out by online food delivery services Postmates and DoorDash, and forecasters are predicting their growing demand by the restaurant industry as a cost-effective delivery option. More work is still needed before they officially hit the streets, but when that day comes, will people be ready to share the sidewalks?

Past research from CivicScience looked at comfortability with package delivery robots and found that Americans were pretty evenly split on the subject. However, when it comes to food-delivery bots, feelings are more mixed. 

A new survey (of 2,012 U.S. respondents age 13+) showed that people felt more uncomfortable with food-delivery robots than they felt comfortable. Only one-third of respondents were okay with the concept, while half were uncomfortable and the rest were uncertain.

As such, people were less comfortable with robots that deliver food than robots that deliver packages.

Why the greater discrepancy? The idea of a robot dropping off a package on your porch may take some getting used to, but a robot bringing you dinner may be too far-fetched for some. First of all, people are still warming up to third-party restaurant delivery apps, with real-life human drivers. Adoption hovers around 15%, with DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats at the top of the food chain:

The good news for these companies is that the survey shows a correlation between food delivery app usage and level of comfort with food-delivery robots. 

A significant percentage of their most frequent users are very open to robot delivery. Nearly 60% of adults who use food delivery apps (weekly, monthly, or yearly) feel comfortable with robot delivery, of which 18% feel “very comfortable.” Overall, they are twice as likely as those who don’t use the apps to feel comfortable.

At the same time, hesitancy still exists among food delivery app users, even among the most frequent users. Eliminating human drivers in lieu of bots could prove alienating to some app users at this point in time. However, companies such as DoorDash foresee the robots as complementary to human drivers, since the bots are best suited to take on short distances rather than travel across town.

Age and Tech Adoption

Furthermore, food delivery app users make up a niche audience of young, urban early tech adopters. Following suit, the survey shows a significant difference in comfort levels between age groups; 13- to 24-year-olds are nearly twice as likely as 35- to 54-year-olds to say they feel “very comfortable” and more than three times as likely as those over age 55.

Likewise, those who are comfortable with food-delivery robots are also much more comfortable with technology such as smart home products and VR. They are more likely to own a smart speaker, like Alexa and Google Home, or a virtual reality system.

Yet the greater tendency of early tech adopters to feel more amicable towards robots could be the result of just having greater familiarity with emerging technology than the general population, and that of course may be predicated by income and purchasing power. Survey results indicate that the highest earners (those making $150k+ per year) are the most comfortable with robot food delivery.

Yet, we still see openness to the idea of robot food delivery among all income brackets. At the same time, data also show that food delivery app users (Grubhub, Uber Eats, etc.) have a diverse mix of incomes. 

Gender Differences

Age may play a major role in who adopts robot food couriers, but the survey reveals that gender could as well. Despite the fact that women use food delivery app services slightly more than men, they are significantly less likely to feel comfortable with the idea of robot food delivery. Only 25% of women feel comfortable, compared to 39% of men. The majority of women do not feel at all comfortable.

Women are also much more likely to express feeling uncomfortable with robot package delivery as well as self-driving vehicles:

Fast Food and Robo-Delivery

Lastly, some anticipate that the bots could make fast food delivery of inexpensive food items possible, averting minimum fees. Fast food businesses and delivery services may be interested to learn that there is a correlation between frequently eating fast food and feeling comfortable with robot delivery. Around 60% of those who are robot-friendly eat fast food weekly or monthly, while those who are not comfortable or uncertain eat fast food less frequently.

At the end of the day, are people ready for the automaton-filled future? If comfortability translates to adoption, food-delivery robots will at first resonate with a niche population of tech-savvy young people already using food delivery apps, with a taste for fast food. Women may be less likely to use the services. All eyes will be on the effect the bots will have on restaurant delivery moving forward.

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