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Self-Driving Robots: Delivery Fleet of the Future?

January 07, 2016

One of Starship Technologies' delivery robots. Photo via Starship Technologies.
One of Starship Technologies' delivery robots. Photo via Starship Technologies.

Launched by former Skype co-founders, Starship Technologies will introduce fleets of small delivery robots.

These robot fleets will open up new opportunities for businesses such as parcel delivery firms or grocery stores, according to the company.

“Our vision revolves around three zeroes — zero cost, zero waiting time and zero environmental impact,” said Ahti Heinla, a Skype co-founder and CEO at Starship Technologies. “We want to do to local deliveries what Skype did to telecommunications.”

Capable of carrying the equivalent of two grocery bags, the robots can complete local deliveries within five to 30 minutes from a local hub or retail outlet — for 10-15 times less than the cost of current last-mile delivery alternatives, according to the company.

Customers can choose from a selection of short, precise delivery slots — meaning goods arrive at a time that suits them. During delivery, shoppers can track the robot’s location in real time through a mobile app. And on arrival only, the app holder is able to unlock the cargo.

Integrated navigation and obstacle avoidance software enables the robots to drive autonomously, but they are also overseen by human operators who can step in to ensure safety at all times, says the company.

For businesses, Starship’s technology eliminates the largest inefficiency in the delivery chain: the last mile. Instead of door-to-door delivery, retailers can ship the goods in bulk to a local hub. Then the robot fleet completes the delivery to the shopper’s door for a fraction of the cost, according to the company.

“With ecommerce continuing to grow, consumers expect to have more convenient options for delivery — but at a cost that suits them,” said Heinla. “The last few miles often amount to the majority of the total delivery cost. Our robots are purposely designed using the technologies made affordable by mobile phones and tablets — it’s fit for purpose and allows for the cost savings to be passed on to the customer.”

The robots are intended to slip seamlessly and safely into the environment. “They travel at the slow speed of four miles per hour — a brisk walking pace,” said Heinla. “They don’t fly — these are not drones. They travel on pavements/sidewalks, blending safely in with pedestrian traffic.”

Starship Technologies is currently testing and demonstrating prototypes and plans to launch the first pilot services with its service partners in the U.S., U.K. and other countries in 2016, says the company.

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