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01/05/2022

Cincinnati airport debuts delivery robots

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport is deploying delivery robots from Ottonomy.

A fully autonomous robot fleet is delivering meals and other items at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (CVG) Airport.

The airport is partnering with autonomous robot startup Ottonomy Inc. to deliver retail and food items in one of its concourses via the company’s “Ottobot” robots. Ottobots create a digital map of the serviceable area and localize within that map. The robots’ live location gets updated on the map while they are navigating autonomously to deliver the orders.

Ottonomy's proprietary contextual mobility navigation software enables Ottobot robots to navigate through crowded and unpredictable environments. The Ottobot solution also offers a comprehensive suite of tools for managing a fleet of robots deployed across different geographies.

With a customer base that is typically in a hurry and focused on purchasing food and convenience items, airports are a natural environment for automated and frictionless shopping experiences. For example, Camden Food Express in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport recently began enabling contactless shopping.

The convenience store retailer is partnering with Terminal 4 operator JFKIAT and checkout-free technology provider Zippin to roll out an artificial intelligence (AI)-based, frictionless shopping experience.

Customers enter the store, which offers a “grab and go” assortment of food and beverage items, through a turnstile, tapping their credit card as they enter. Shoppers can then begin picking items off shelves. As they do, Zippin’s AI system automatically identifies the items and builds the customer’s virtual cart with the corresponding monetary value. When the customer leaves the store, the total amount spent is automatically charged to the card the customer used to check in at the store entrance.

Other airport retailers have also been introducing frictionless shopping options. Hudson, a leading travel retailer with more than 1,000 stores in airports, commuter hubs and tourist destinations across North America, has entered into an agreement to use Amazon’s Just Walk Out platform in select travel convenience stores.  The first location to implement the technology —a new concept called Hudson Nonstop — opened in the first quarter of 2021, at Dallas Love Field Airport, with additional roll-outs planned at North American stores later in the year. 

Hudson is following in the footsteps of airport convenience store chain Cibo Express Gourmet Markets, which began rolling out the Amazon technology at select stores in March 2020.

And delivery robots are starting to pop up in specialized consumer environments. The University of Arizona and Ohio State University both teamed up with Grubhub and Yandex Self-Driving Group to roll out on-campus delivery via Yandex robots.

Los Angeles based casual dining chain Crave is also partnering with Ottonomy to provide last-mile food delivery for its restaurant customers via Ottobot robots. Ottonomy is a new addition to the Newlab innovation studio at Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, where it will be running additional pilots.

To support its effort to roll out Ottobots across North America over the next 18 months, Ottonomy has formed a strategic partnership with ARO, a global provider robotic management, operations, and support. ARO will support Ottonomy during its rollout, including implementation, daily operations, robotic fleet management, and complete robot lifecycle management

Ottobot pilots started running during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The initial robot deliveries provided additional data to further develop the program and user experience as rollouts will continue across the U.S. over the coming year.

"The pandemic has provided Ottobots a catalyst enabling a series of partnerships that allowed us to launch fully autonomous delivery for indoor deliveries, curbside deliveries and last-mile deliveries," said Ritukar Vijay, CEO of Ottonomy.