Autonomous delivery vehicle startup launches

ANN ARBOR — A new Ann Arbor company offering an autonomous delivery robot that can operate in bicycle lanes or on the road, launched at TechCrunch Mobility, a conference held last week in San Jose, Calif.

Refraction AI ( was founded by Matthew Johnson-Roberson, a professor of robotics at the University of Michigan, and Ran Vasudevan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UM.

“We have created the Goldilocks of autonomous vehicles in terms of size and shape,” said Matthew Johnson-Roberson, cofounder and CEO at Refraction. “Our platform is lightweight, nimble and fast enough to operate in the bike lane and on the roadway, and we are tackling regional inclement weather patterns that inhibit or slow down other AV solutions.”

Approximately the size of an electric bicycle, Refraction’s first self-driving delivery robot has three wheels and stands 5 feet tall, 4.5 feet long and 30 inches wide. It weighs approximately 100 pounds and can reach a speed of up to 15 mph, which is fast enough to be nimble and deliver in a timely manner, while having the shortest stopping distance of any AV on the road.

The inside of the vehicle holds 16 cubic feet, or approximately four or five grocery bags. When a delivery arrives at its destination, a text with a keypad code lets the recipient retrieve their goods. The company’s first test application is with restaurant partners, and the company expects to expand across the gamut of last mile delivery.

The REV-1 uses a system of 12 cameras as its primary sensor system, along with radar and ultrasound sensors for additional safety. The entire platform costs a fraction of just one LIDAR used in other systems. Additionally, this system enables Refraction’s platform to navigate in rain or snow, and is not dependent on traditional HD LIDAR maps.

“Our vehicle’s low curb weight at low speeds makes deployment safer than other autonomous vehicles. For example, we have a 5 foot stopping distance, compared to the typical 45 foot stopping distance that a full-sized vehicle at the same speed would need to avoid an accident,” Johnson-Roberson said. “Finally, our design and technical choices, particularly relying on cameras over HD-LIDAR, allow us to operate a more economical platform that gives us a significant competitive advantage on cost efficiency.”

Investors in the country so far have included eLab Ventures, an early-stage mobility venture firm based in Ann Arbor, and Trucks Venture Capital, a mobility-focused firm in San Francisco.

For more information about Refraction’s products, technology, or career opportunities, visit

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