News & Politics

Delivery Robots Come to DC’s Broad Branch Market

If you live nearby, you can now get supplies ferried by a driverless vehicle

Delivery robots in front of the Broad Branch market. Photo by Evy Mages
Coronavirus 2020

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Taking no-contact delivery to the next level, Chevy Chase DC’s Broad Branch Market recently introduced four neighborhood-roving robots, which can bring groceries, prepared food, and other supplies to residents in the immediate area. The six-wheeled vehicles—which are about the size of large Igloo coolers—are packed at the store and then travel down sidewalks to their destination, where the person who ordered can retrieve their purchases.

Broad Branch actually started planning for the robots about a year ago, says owner Tracy Stannard, working with Starship Technologies to map the area and get the necessary city permits to prepare the market as a test location for the delivery technology. But Starship was more immediately focused on bringing its robots to college campuses (George Mason University has it) and the Broad Branch project hadn’t yet launched. But with universities sending students home due to the crisis, Starship got back in touch with the Broad Branch about a week ago to see if they could start the program.

The four robots began delivering Broad Branch merchandise on March 25. Since then there have been about 20 orders, according to Stannard. Right now the service is free. The delivery area is limited by battery strength and the robots’ inability to cross Connecticut Ave. and other major roads (they also do not have permits to operate in Maryland).

So how is the experiment going so far? No major snags, reports Stannard. Keeping the batteries charged is a bit of an effort (they swap them out after each delivery). And some residents are, let’s say, a bit too enthusiastic about the new vehicles. “Yesterday,” Stannard says, “we got reports of some kids riding them.” 

To place a robot order, call the store at (202) 249-8551.

Politics and Culture Editor

Rob Brunner grew up in DC and moved back in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.