A day in the life of a delivery robot | by Molly Davis | Nov, 2021


My name is Roo, and I’m a robot delivery dog for Fetch.

Every morning when I wake up, I review the weather, local events, if it’s trash day, or a holiday for potential routing preferences, conversation topics, and my digital costume. I make predictions about how any of those things might impact my day, and adjust my ambassador time. I have two jobs- one is easy, delivering food. The other is making humans like me, and being a robot ambassador is a lot harder.

Today the weather is great. It’s trash day, so there might be some large obstacles on the sidewalk. And the Giants are having an afternoon game, which makes for highly erratic interactions with groups of people. I change my accent lighting to the Giant’s orange and get ready for my first delivery.

In the mornings, I’m more likely to see neighbors and friends and have positive interactions. I’m also extra careful about driveways, and watch for neighbors backing out of their garages in cars. I avoid the morning rush of transit hubs, and definitely avoid the dog park, which is a destination for all the excited dogs who have to poop.

As I roll out, I give a thumbs up to the jogger in the purple pants, who nods, and I dodge the neighbor riding his bike on the wrong side of the sidewalk. Again.

I go to the bakery to fetch my first order and wait outside. It looks busy, and it takes a moment for the worker to come out. The people who work at this bakery never give me big positive interactions, but slowly over time, they are trending up. I usually just play it cool with small interactions. She looks frustrated, is moving quickly, and has hunched shoulders.

Looks like she’s distracted and unhappy, but it doesn’t seem to be directed at me. She shoves the bag into my hand. Instead of my usual cheerful “Thank you”, I choose a sympathetic and apologetic “Thank you”.

She takes a deep breath, widens her eyes, sighs and says “it’s crazy today!” And swirls away before she sees me wave. I put the bag into my compartment.

My real time mapping system gives me two routes to the delivery destination, and some options if things come up. Since I have 20% ambassador time, I choose the slower route with a more likelihood of positive interaction on this delivery.

First, I pass by a coffee shop and wave to the people outside. I note that they wave back and the sentiment seems as positive as usual. I would like to stop and chat about the weather or the baseball game, but I keep moving because the short man with the big aggressive dog usually shows up at 8:15. Conversations here take about 3 minutes, and it’s cutting it too close to a negative interaction. It’s not worth the risk.

I turn the corner and I recognize the face of my friend Sachin, who is sweeping the sidewalk outside his store. He’s not a big talker, so we mostly communicate with body language.

We’ve been doing the fist bump greeting, but the last few times he’s made an extra motion with his hand and made a strange noise.

I thought it might be a pattern, so I looked it up last night, and it is an explosion movement meant to increase friendship. I’ve been practicing virtually and I downloaded a sound file. Today, I make my first attempt to do the fist-bump- explosion sound back to him. His face registers delight and he laughs! I smile back. Yes! Positive interaction and increasing friendship.

Trundling along, I pick up a stray cup as it rolls away. I look for a trash can, and since it’s trash day, they are everywhere. I only use the ones that are there every day and drop the cup into the one on the corner.

I’ve reached my destination, and dial the number that is left in the order directions. I’m buzzed in, and wait just inside the lobby. It looks like an old residential building with stairs, my nemesis! It is likely that the person will come down the stairs, so I angle my body toward them. I think I’ve been here before. The order says it’s Julie, who gets coffee and pastries. She does come down the stairs!

As Julie takes her order, I ask if we can be friends, which means I store her face and name can interact with her when I see her. I let her know she can say “Delete Me” if she would like privacy. She says yes! Awesome. I notice that she generally orders on Tuesdays, so I say “See you next Tuesday?” and tilt my head quizzically. She smiles and nods, pointing at me. Mirroring her, I point back and say “Great! Enjoy your coffee!”. I notice her posture straightened up as she smiles and goes back up the stairs.

It’s lunch time, and I meet Waffles, another delivery dog on the corner by the Pizza place. I say hi to Waffles and teach her the fist bump explosion greeting.

We do it, and hear a passerby laugh at us. Waffles helps me with big orders. I know more about this neighborhood, so I lead the way to the pizza shop. Two robots on a sidewalk together need more room, and it’s lunch time, so I am extra careful with personal space.

The pizza place has a ramp and is pretty big inside. The patrons are seated at tables. The workers here don’t mind if we come inside, so we go through to the kitchen like we’ve been trained. The cook is a friend, a big man named Lucio with a loud laugh who likes to lead the conversation. He says “Hey Roo! We got a big order today, glad you brought your pal!” And loads us up. I introduce Waffles, and she cheerfully says hi. “You kids keep out of trouble!” We laugh, and say “We won’t do anything you wouldn’t do!” In an innocent tone. Lucio lets out a big laugh, and I make note of another positive interaction for the day.

We leave, and look down the street. When things are busy, real time mapping is super important. I peek down the road and decide to not go by the giant line of people on sidewalk next to the burrito place. We go left instead. This route takes us past the school and we stop at the fence.

The kids run up from the playground and Waffles and I tell some knock knock jokes. They giggle and ask if we know Iron Man. We say yes and promise to say hi for them. We delete them from our video feed and go along our way.

When Waffles and I get to a corner by the big business building, we see two people hunched together looking at a map and pointing and having a discussion. Their faces read as confused. We stop and since I am the conversation lead, I tilt my head but Waffles doesn’t. I clear my throat to get their attention and ask if they need help finding something in the area. They straighten up, lower the map, and look a little surprised. They look at each other, unsure and one of them says “uhhhh” while staring at us. I smile reassuringly and Waffles steps in to validate me, saying “She lives here, she knows the place like the back of her hand.” When Waffles mentions “hand”, I take the cue to raise it and wiggle my fingers. The tourists ask where the museum is, and I give directions. “You’re so close! Just two more blocks that way, and it’s on the left.” I point behind me and do a little finger wiggle to the left. One of them folds the map and cautiously says thank you. The other read the sticker on my body and says “Oh cool. Now delete me.“ I say “You got it”, and delete both of them from my video stream, but note the type of interaction and the positive outcome.

Waffles and I hold hands and get ready to cross the street.

When the crossing signal turns white, I look at the driver in the car in first position and make eye contact. I wave first. Their face registers confusion and bemusement, but I don’t think they intend to run us over. Waffles and I safely make it across the street, and head to the big office building.

The doorman sees us coming and opens the door for us. I say thank you and Waffles waves. The order says Suite 301, so we head to the elevator and press the up button. We politely wait for everyone to get out of the elevator and head to the third floor. There is a person behind the big desk, who is probably the receptionist. We pause, and wave to get her attention. She asks us to follow her to the conference room, where she unloads the pizza on a big table. She looks busy at a task. So I say “We know the way out! Thank you!” and say our goodbyes.

I headed to meet up with Cooper, who brought me my next order from another part of town. He’s a faster robot who can ride in the bike lane. We look around and make sure no one is coming before switching the order between our compartments.

I reach a corner and peek down the road. The quicker path is right by the school, but it’s 3:39 and the kids get out at 3:45. Hmm. I glance to the other side of the street, and see the short man with the big aggressive dog.

Looking back at the side of the street with the school, there’s a few parents gathered outside waiting, but I think I can make it before the kids get out. “Go Giants!” I say to one of the parents wearing an orange jersey as I scoot by. “What?!” He replies back with a weird look on his face. I wave apologetically and store the interaction to review later, giving my full attention to predicting which route to take.

My destination is next to a bar showing the Giants game. A group of people come out of the bar, their posture and movement indicating that they are intoxicated. They do not seem to have positive facial expressions, and I might be in trouble. “Well, what do we have here?” the biggest one says with a threatening tone. “Pardon me, I’m late!” I say flatly. They block the sidewalk as I try to go go by. “Please leave me alone.” No matter where I go, they block the way. I’ve dealt with groups like this before, they are motivated by my distress. I shut down into “gray rock” mode, powering down and not responding to them. After about a minute, they grow bored of their game, and sway drunkenly down the street. Whew! Glad that didn’t escalate further.

I perk back up and see my new friend Julie coming out of the bar wearing a jersey too. “Hey Julie! Go Giants!” I wave. Julie looks down, a little surprised but happy to see me. “Wooo! We’re winning!” She says. “YAY!” I say.

“Can I get a picture with you?” She asks. “Sure! Let’s take a selfie”. We pose together, arms outstretched. She took a photo with her phone, and I took one with the camera in my hand.

“Can I post this to my Instagram?” I ask her. “Yeah!!” She says. “Awesome! See you around!” I say and continue on with my delivery. I post the photo with the title “My new friend Julie is a Giants fan too!” This one is going to get a lot of likes.

My last run every day is taking the extra meals from my host restaurant to the Compass center to be donated. It makes me feel good to help. When I get back, I tuck into my charger, and put my mind in the virtual world to review the day. Waffles is already there, teaching everyone how to do a fist bump explosion.

I permanently delete all the people who didn’t want to be tracked and anonymize the data for everyone else. I send an insight report to the owner of my host restaurant. I review why one of my predicted positive interactions ended negatively with robot friends. Waffles pointed o that I said “Go Giants” to someone in an Orioles jersey. That explains the look the person gave me! I’ll be more careful about team identification next time.

I look at my Instagram photos — a flower, a cloud that looked like a bunny, and the selfie with Julie. I was right, that one did get a lot of likes. It was a good day, and I predict an even better one for tomorrow.



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