Do robots make sense for online delivery?
Will robots on the ground prove more effective at delivering online purchases than drones in the air? A test of self-driving robots delivering packages, groceries and food is taking place in London, Düsseldorf in Germany, and Bern in Switzerland.
The test comes from Starship Technologies, an Estonian startup from Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. Partners in the test include European food delivery company Just Eat, London food delivery startup Pronto.co.uk, German package delivery firm Hermes and German retailer Metro Group.
With an aim to “make local delivery, almost free,” the robots are designed to deliver goods in 15 to 30 minutes within a two- to three-mile radius. Using an on-board GPS system, camera and various sensors, the six-wheeled robots navigate around obstacles and follow traffic rules. The devices drive autonomously while being monitored by human operators in control centers. When a robot reaches its destination, customers type in a code that has been sent to a mobile app to open the lid and collect their merchandise.
Introduced to European and American cities since the end of last year, the robots have driven close to 5,000 miles and met over 400,000 people without a single accident.
“Nobody likes to spend hours waiting for the courier just to have a parcel delivered,” said Frank Rausch, CEO of Hermes Germany, in a statement. “Therefore, individually scheduled delivery services will become increasingly important within the coming years.”
James Roy Poulter, CEO at Pronto, added, “We hope to see the streets lined with thousands of these robots bringing people their hot, ready-to-eat Pronto meal on-demand and providing an even more cost-effective, efficient and environmentally friendly delivery solution for our customers.”
A similar program will be announced for the U.S. shortly.
Mr. Heinla, Starship’s CEO, told Wired last November that ground-based robots won’t merit the level of safety concerns and regulation hurdles that drones are facing as delivery vehicles.
- Starship Technologies launches testing program for self-driving delivery robots with major industry partners – Starship Technologies
- Starship partners with Just Eat to bring its delivery robots to the UK – Wired
- Just Eat and Starship Technologies to power food delivery in London with self-driving robots – VentureBeat
- Autonomous Robots to Begin Delivering Food and Parcels in Europe – Bloomberg
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you see as the potential benefits and drawbacks to using ground-based robots to make deliveries? Do you see robots eventually playing a large role in supporting deliveries?