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By Gleb Stolyarov
MOSCOW, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Driverless robot buggies started delivering hot restaurant meals to paying customers in one central Moscow district on Wednesday, their operator, Russian Internet giant Yandex, said.
The Yandex.Eats app, one of several food and grocery delivery services in Moscow, is offering customers around the White Square business district the option to have meals delivered by a buggy-like delivery robot instead of a human.
The robot, called the Yandex.Rover, has been delivering groceries in some Moscow areas as part of a pilot programme since the autumn. It is now gradually expanding its catchment area, a Yandex spokeswoman said.
The robot picks up orders from restaurants and brings them to the customer who then unlocks the robot using their smartphone and lifts out the food, Yandex said.
Three of them are now operating in the White Square area, part of a city-wide fleet of 20 robots, it said.
The Yandex delivery service and its rival, Delivery Club, mean the sight of delivery couriers wearing bright yellow or green overalls with boxy thermal satchels on their backs has become ubiquitous in Moscow in recent years.
Over the summer, five Russian retailers commissioned a monument in Moscow to honour tens of thousands of delivery couriers who it said had kept the capital ticking during a weeks-long lockdown to curb the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dmitry Polishchuk, CEO of Yandex's Self-Driving Group, said demand for delivery services was constantly growing and that the pandemic had accelerated the trend.
Yandex, sometimes described as Russia's Google, said in November last year it had started testing autonomous delivery robots. It has also started using them commercially in Innopolis, a tech district in Tatarstan region, it said. (Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)