The future of deliveries

Sara DoucetteBlog

robot and an old man with a walking stick on a walkway

robots

Short little six-wheeled robots could be turning up at your door sooner than you think. The little machines (pictured above) are equipped with nine individual directional cameras, built-in GPS, and is monitored by real people who are able to take remote control if needed.

These robots can hold around 2 full shopping bags, or equivalent – perfect for your essentials or some forgotten items (think of this as a more low-key, short-distance version of what Amazon is looking to do with drone delivery) and can travel around for up to three hours per charge.

The robots ride on the pavement and are designed to detect people and other obstacles, adjusting their speed, stopping at roads etc. and generally proving themselves self-reliant. They use similar technology to Google’s self-driving prototype cars, yet remain within the control of a human dispatcher should there be any trouble.
The robots weigh about 40 lbs., and their cargo bays are can be opened only by the person waiting on the delivery. If someone tries to steal from the bots, they can call the police for help and film the incident.

Launched by Starship Technologies, a company set up by the co-founders of Skype, they have been riding around parts of Greenwich as part of an early trial period Ahti Heinla, a Skype co-founder and CEO at Starship Technologies said:

“Our vision revolves around three zeroes – zero cost, zero waiting time and zero environmental impact. We want to do to local deliveries what Skype did to telecommunications.”

Trials are set to being in the next six months, and will be travelling around towns and cities in the UK, and if successful will be trialling in the US at a later date.

Lauri Väin, Starship’s engineering lead, discussed the possibility that Starship may rent out the robots to small businesses that can’t afford to use people to do the same job. The same way Uber gets pickup orders, businesses could request a robot to pick up an order and deliver it to a customer. Starship has previously said that it wants to keep delivery costs on the robot to less than $2 – (or £1 in the UK) per delivery.

Väin added that he wants the robots—which can keep up with a person walking—to arrive at your door in about 12 to 15 minutes, meaning perhaps Domino’s (which is working on similar robots) could deliver a pizza without a person every leaving the shop. You won’t have to schedule a delivery time; Starship’s robots will be able to deliver as needed, whether during working hours or not.

This does lead to the question of where this leaves people such as the delivery drivers itself – where are they left when their jobs are replaced by automation? Something we discussed a couple of weeks ago in “The Robots Are Coming!”. While there’s doubt that this would cause too many job losses – it’s possible that a business would rather retrain current employees to fill different, new roles in the business. For instance, there needs to be people supervising the deliveries, something for which a business at the moment doesn’t have staff for. What isn’t up for discussion is that this will have a serious disruptive effect on delivery staff and the process we recieve when ordering items online.

Success in these trials could lead to fewer traditional delivery trucks and a greater number of electric delivery bots in the future. Increasing accessibility and reducing carbon emissions, now that’s not just innovation, but true disruptive innovation.

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