Starship Technologies, launched by some of the co-founders of Skype, is beginning live trials of a six-wheeled delivery robot. The ‘bot, which still lacks a catchy name, has already undergone technical trials, but now it will be delivering packages to real customers in real cities.
The robot will be working in five cities across the U.K., Germany, and Switzerland, variously delivering food and parcels for partner companies Hermes and Pronto. To get a Starship delivery, you order using an app, and tell the service a time when you’ll be home. The robot is then sent to trundle out to your door. It finds its own way there, but human operators monitor the bots as well.
The robots can carry a food delivery, a few bags of groceries, or small to medium sized parcels, and they have a range of a few of miles. The idea is that they operate out of a local delivery depot and run directly back and forth to their delivery destinations.
It’s telling that the promo video for the self-driving deliverybot is set in a gated community, because that’s about the only place something like this would work. The popular alternative of flying drone deliveries might have its own logistical problems, but at least bot-jacking won’t be one of them. Set down a Starship deliverybot in the center of your average U.K. city and it’ll be gone before it makes its first delivery. Yet despite this, the Starship robots have run 5,000 test miles without incident, navigating around pedestrians, traffic, and other hazards before finally arriving at your door. And initially, the bots will not run in super-dense city centers, because they just can’t handle it. Instead, they’ll work in quieter cities, or the suburbs.
These problems will be overcome, because there’s a lot in it for delivery companies. "Nobody likes to spend hours waiting for the courier just to have a parcel delivered," Hermes Germany CEO Frank Rausch said in a press release. "Therefore, individually scheduled delivery services will become increasingly important within the next years."
Just about the most expensive part of getting a package to its addressee is the final leg, where a human has to hand-deliver every package to another human, often when that second human isn’t at home. Ukraine’s postal drones, which fly out to the customer and lower their packages on a 50-foot cable, cost only $0.15 per delivery to run. This, not the convenience to the customer, is the real reason drone and robot deliveries are so hot right now.
Starship isn’t a delivery company, and so it plans to contract out its robots, kind of how a pizza chain could rent itself a fleet of delivery bicycles. So in the future, you could order a Domino’s pizza, or a bag of groceries from the local bodega, and it would be brought to your door by a branded ‘bot. And it might be a money saver for you too, as you’ll never have to tip.
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