LOS ANGELES - She looks like a box on four wheels. Her name is COCO and she’s a robot. Standing at 2 feet-tall (5 feet, if you include the flag) she weighs 50 pounds, give or take.
She looks a bit like a toy car as she’s piloted along a San Pedro sidewalk. And, she works for a living...sort of. She delivers food just like others who deliver, but just within a mile or so of whatever restaurant she’s working for. And, there are quite a few of these units at work.
Right now, there are four in San Pedro and a few in Santa Monica.
"Awesome," says 6th grader Kamali Moreno watching from a table where she’s eating with her family at the San Pedro Brewing Company.
Some people have concerns as COCO drives by. "I’m worried it would take somebody’s job away," says Mena Mazzella of San Pedro.
The company says each robot is operated by a pilot so no human jobs are lost. To that, Mazzella is relieved. "I love it. I love it," she says. Another customer sitting outdoors at the restaurant is Laura Morrison. She’s there with her mom and dad. They had just come from Dodger Stadium where they got their COVID shots. "I think it makes sense. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to stop when the pandemic cools down," says Morrison.
Zach Rash Coco’s CEO. He co-founded Cyan Robotics with college friend Brad Squicciarini. The two met at UCLA where they went to school. They started their work on COCO, "before the pandemic with the goal of helping local businesses deliver to their customers at a much lower cost."
He says the delivery cost could be as much as half. Like any delivery service, COCO’s fees are built into the bill. That’s how Rash and his team make money. Rash is now 23. He says the self-driving industry was moving too slow for them so they kicked it into high gear, hired a team of robot pilots - people that operate the robots using cameras and computer screens to help navigate. In fact, they’re looking for more now. Openings can be found on their website cocodelivery.com.
Of the pilot jobs Rash says, "They work from home. These are delivery drivers who are W-2 employees (so, they’re staff) that work from the safety of their home and deliver the food via the robot for us."
Not everyone is impressed. Jess Cerna, another customer at the San Pedro Brewing Company told us, "I don’t think it’s that good of an idea. I don’t. Then you’re losing all communication with people."
Rash says in research and development they are working to give COCO a voice. She has lots of eyes though… cameras that help the pilot keep from driving into people or objects.
Nancy Hill, who was sitting at the same table as Jess Cerna and Mena Mazzella said, "I’m just wondering if someone would stop it and grab the food out and you’d never get it at your place."
James Brown, who owns San Pedro Brewing Company, says it’s unlikely since Coco’s door is locked after food is put in and the pilot remotely unlocks the door when the food arrives at its destination. Brown says COCO is an asset. He says it is an "innovative way to preserve the business. (It’s) COVID-safe as far as transporting the food. But, one of the biggest things is the cost savings for us."
Could someone steal COCO? Rash thinks it would be hard. Each unit can be tracked with GPS. They’re bulky and there are always eyes and cameras on them because there are pilots controlling them. So, meet COCO! Just like the scooters that you see all over sidewalks, she’s now joining the crowd.