SEOUL -- A self-driving food delivery robot made its debut at a crowded South Korean restaurant this week before commercial production in a project that would eventually kick out human delivery drivers.
Woowa Brothers, the operator of the country's top food delivery service Baedal Minjok, said in a statement Friday that the testing of a delivery robot called "Dilly" began at a food court in the central city of Cheonan this week. The company hopes to commercialize the self-driving robot in three to five years.
"The customers are curious about the robot. They think the robot is very funny and cute," Sung Ho-kyung, a public relations manager at Woowa Brothers, told Aju news.
Dilly, which is about the size of a small refrigerator, is 83 centimeters (33 inches) tall, 77 cm long and 68 cm wide. It has a compartment to carry food with sensors detecting its whereabouts and obstacles.
"We are testing Dilly to see if it can reach its destination when its route is blocked by an obstacle," a Woowa Brothers official was quoted as saying in the statement. The company said it would gradually increase the difficulty of the testing environment. Testing on roads and pedestrian walks would be staged later.
South Korea's food delivery service market is backed by some 200,000 workers who use the transportation of motorcycles. Smartphone apps are used widely so that customers can order lunchboxes, salads and side dishes from local restaurants as well as food from special non-delivery restaurants.
While many restaurants operate their own delivery workers, major online delivery services link their businesses with small and mid-sized delivery agencies to offer services around the clock.
Drones have gained attention in South Korea because of their versatility. In 2016, Yogiyo, a food delivery company, made a successful test flight of an auto-piloting food delivery drone in an urban apartment complex. However, the commercialization of drone food delivery services has a long way to go due to technical and other problems.
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