Food delivery robots roll out at select restaurants in the Mosaic District

Food delivery robots from the startup Cartken have launched at the Mosaic District (courtesy Alex Zilberman/EDENS)

The robots are taking over the Mosaic District.

Starting today (Thursday), a fleet of boxy, self-driving bots will roam around the mixed-use Merrifield neighborhood, delivering food from restaurants in a pilot program by the delivery service Uber Eats and the robotics startup Cartken.

Right now, robot deliveries are available from the family-owned Greek restaurant Our Mom Eugenia, Pupatella Pizza and the Indian fast-casual eatery RASA, but other tenants could be added later. The pilot is slated to run through April 2024.

The Mosaic District is emerging as a prime testing ground for autonomous technology, hosting Fairfax County and Dominion Energy’s Relay shuttle — though the vehicle is currently sidelined by “mechanical issues” through Friday (April 21).

“We are excited to partner with Uber Eats and Cartken to bring cutting-edge technology to our community, and confident this innovative service will elevate visitor experience and customer engagement at Mosaic,” said Greg Dercach, vice president of property management for EDENS, which owns and operates the development.

Uber and Cartken — an Oakland, California-based artificial intelligence company created by former Google engineers — first teamed up to experiment with food delivery robots in the Miami, Florida, area, launching a pilot in December.

The companies chose to introduce the robots to the Mosaic District, their first site in Virginia, because of the development’s walkability and abundance of dining options.

“Uber and Cartken share a vision to provide greater affordability, reliability, and convenience to merchants and consumers — all at the touch of a button,” Noah Zych, Uber’s head of autonomous mobility and delivery, said. “Our expansion to Fairfax is another important step in this journey, bringing Virginia residents a little more Uber magic through sidewalk robot delivery.”

Deliveries from the participating restaurants can be ordered through the Uber Eats app (courtesy Uber)

Sporting six wheels and a red flag, the robots are equipped with sensors and cameras that help them navigate and avoid collisions. They can carry 1.5 cubic feet — about two full paper grocery bags — and reach speeds of 3-6 mph, depending on the environment.

They will travel anywhere within the Mosaic District, though residents will have to step outside to pick up their deliveries.

While made by a different company, Cartken’s vehicles will look familiar to anyone who has recently visited George Mason University’s Fairfax campus, where robots from Starship Technology have been delivering food to students since 2019.

Founded in 2019, Cartken has also worked with Grubhub at some college campuses and deployed its robots to make Starbucks deliveries at malls in Japan.

“Our team at Cartken is excited to further partner with Uber Eats and expand our reach to serve the Fairfax community,” Cartken co-founder and COO Anjali Jindal Naik said. “Cartken is at an inflection point, where we are rapidly bringing our AI, computer vision, and lidar-less autonomous robots to more places, like Mosaic District, in partnership with Uber Eats.”

Patrons of the participating Mosaic District restaurants can request a delivery by robot through the Uber Eats app, which allows users to track the vehicle’s route and arrival time. A standard delivery takes 20 to 30 minutes, but there’s a “priority” option that advertises a 15 to 25-minute wait for a $1.49 fee.

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