If you’ve been walking around the streets of Toronto recently, you might have seen a tiny pink robot making food deliveries and passing by your ankles.
This tiny robot is named Geoffrey and it’s made by the start-up Tiny Mile right here in the 6ix. Tiny Mile is trying to make food delivery more affordable for both customers and restaurants and safer for drivers.
Omar Elawi, the account manager for Tiny Mile, spoke to 6ixbuzz about the company and its goals.
Beginnings of Tiny Mile
The idea for Tiny Mile came when the company’s co-founders worked at Uber ATG where they were both working on developing autonomous vehicles. What the pair discovered was that full autonomy for vehicles is still around a decade away.
“So they decided to leave Uber and branch out into their own company where they can still tackle the challenge of autonomy but in a simpler and safer environment,” Omar said.
Omar then went on to say that the goal of Tiny Mile is not to make the Geoffrey robots fully autonomous. “The goal is really more so semi-autonomy. Instead of driving themselves, the robots have a pilot controlling one or two at a time remotely.”
Omar says that the business all began with the co-founders building a prototype of Geoffrey in their apartment. “Basically it was a clear container that held the food and they attached a toy car chassis to it and that was the beginning of the whole concept.”
The pair later went on to work in Ryerson University’s Design Fabrication Zone. After a few months, they eventually moved on to the current model that you see in Toronto now.
What is the reasoning behind the robot’s name and colours?
“The robot is named after Geoffrey Hinton, a professor at the University of Toronto who is considered the godfather of AI. The company’s founders actually got his blessing and that’s why our robots are all named Geoffrey,” Omar said.
When it comes to the colour of the robots, Omar says that they chose pink as a way to make the robot cuter so that it would be less shocking to people. Omar says that there are a lot of misconceptions about automation that make people hesitant about things like robots.
How does Tiny Mile help small business?
“We help restaurants by making food delivery significantly more affordable by utilizing these robots and by having a pilot be able to operate multiple robots. This essentially cuts the courier fees in half if each courier can control two or more robots at one time. This will help restaurants save on commission costs,” Omar said.
He also says that Tiny Mile offers a more affordable commission fee when compared to other food delivery services.
Omar says that this cheaper commission will also lead to savings on the consumer end due to cheaper delivery fees.
We also asked if this would lead to delivery drivers losing their jobs.
Omar said that because there will always be a person piloting the robots remotely, this will not take away jobs and actually make delivery persons’ jobs safer.
“We actually believe that it will create jobs because there will need to be pilots. There will also need to be workers who construct and maintain the robots. On top of that, there will be people who go out and assist the robots if they ever need any help like with making deliveries upstairs.”
How do deliveries work?
While the goal for Tiny Mile is semi-autonomy, currently all the robots are 100% piloted by someone remotely. The driver will guide the robot to a storefront, have them package the food and then the driver will bring the bot to the destination.
There is GPS technology to show the driver the correct path and a camera on each robot to give the drivers 360 degree vision of their surroundings.
What if the robot gets attacked?
We asked Omar about the possibility of vandalism and theft of the Geoffrey robots and the deliveries. One would think that due to the small size of the bot that it would be an easy target for vandalism and/or theft, especially at night.
Omar says that they have luckily never experienced such cases. “We haven’t experienced anything like that. In fact, people have actually been helpful to the robot. Some people have even DMed us on Instagram or send us an email when some of our early models would lose a wheel and tell us where it was.”
In the case that vandalism or theft does occur, Omar says that Tiny Mile will compensate the restaurant for the cost of the food and attempt to get the order out again. However, at the time of writing Tiny Mile has not experienced any theft or vandalism.
What are your goals as a business?
When asked about what the goals are for Tiny Mile as a whole, Omar said “At the end of the day, it’s all rooted in making delivery more affordable.”
On any given day, around 3% of Ontario’s population orders takeout delivery. Omar says that the reason for that is because ordering out is expensive. That makes it so only those fortunate enough can afford the service.
“Our goal is to make it affordable to everyone by having these robots run at such a low cost, which will decrease costs. This will pass on savings both to the restaurant and the customer,” Omar said.