Local groups launch autonomous food delivery to serve Pittsburghers in need | Pittsburgh City Paper

Local groups launch autonomous food delivery to serve Pittsburghers in need

Servings of fresh food otherwise destined for the garbage bin will instead be distributed around town in autonomous vehicles through a new effort to combat hunger and eliminate food waste.

The program is an initiative of three local organizations, Argo AI, 412 Food Rescue and Parkhurst Dining, with each contributing their distinct services to steer surplus food to those who need it.

“The service will pair Argo autonomous vehicles with 412 Food Rescue partners to pick up and transport meals to nonprofits that offer food assistance and supplies in the region," according to a press release announcing the partnership. " Argo will also donate and deliver meals prepared by its food service provider, Parkhurst Dining, from its headquarters in the Strip District of Pittsburgh.”

412 Food Rescue founded in Pittsburgh in 2015 “to mobilize volunteers to redistribute surplus food from retailers and businesses to local partners supporting community members facing food insecurity,” according to the  release. The company also operates the Food Rescue Hero Network, which connects 14 partner food recovery organizations and operates in more than 25 cities, including Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Northern Virginia, and Los Angeles.

The release notes that the FRH network has recovered 100 million pounds of food as of July 2022.

“412 Food Rescue has always aimed to modernize food recovery to make donating surplus food easier for businesses, and delivering that food immediately, making food access convenient for people in need,” says Leah Lizarondo, co-founder and CEO of 412 Food Rescue. “We believe in using every tool in our technological toolbox to get food to people who need it, and we're excited to explore how one of the most innovative technologies we've seen in Pittsburgh can be used for good through our partnership with Argo.”

According to the city planning department, one in five Pittsburgh residents faces food insecurity. The release says the AI initiative aims to make it easier to connect food-insecure Pittsburghers to sources of nutrition.

“Between food deserts, lack of adequate transportation, or time required to visit food pantries during regular business hours, food access continues to be a problem,” says the release. “Yet up to forty percent of food around the world goes to waste. Self-driving vehicles can play an important role in the food recovery ecosystem by connecting businesses directly with nonprofit partner organizations that serve the unique needs of our food-insecure neighbors.”

Argo AI says it aspires to ensure self-driving vehicles improve access to resources for “everyone,” writing that redistributing food and other resources is “one of the many ways self-driving cars can benefit communities, serve the underserved, and address common challenges facing cities today.”

“We’re driven by our purpose of reimagining the human journey, and that includes ensuring self-driving vehicles are broadening access to transportation and goods to everyone in the communities where we operate,” says Summer Fowler, Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer, Argo AI. “We see an opportunity for autonomous vehicles to offer reliable delivery of food donations to address food insecurity, and we are proud to launch this initiative with 412 Food Rescue and Parkhurst.”