As Google promises the launch of a U.S. drone delivery service within the next two years and other multinationals including Amazon and Walmart begin to develop their own commercial UAV fleets, small start-up Starship Technologies is taking a different approach with its ground-based self-driving delivery robot.
Headquartered in London and launched by two ex-Skype founders, the Estonian robotics company has unveiled its suburban pavement-strolling bot which can travel at a speedy 4mph. Starship claims that the 40-pound machine could deliver packages in 5 to 30 minutes from local retailers and restaurants.
Starship argues that a grounded approach to automated delivery will remove some of the safety concerns linked to flying drone systems, as the robot is much less likely to cause harm.
The start-up explained that the customer is able to track the robot’s progress via a dedicated app, which alerts them when the delivery has arrived. The app is also used to unlock the robot’s cargo bay, which is otherwise locked to prevent theft.
The robot is designed to drive autonomously 99% of the time, with particularly complicated scenarios handled by a human operator.
“The robots will cross the streets much like the humans do: stop, look both ways, and wait until it is safe to cross,” said Starship CEO and CTO Ahti Heinla. “The robot can recognize approaching cars with its sensor suite from 100-200 metres and will cross the streets only in locations with great visibility.”
Starship plans to release the robots as a service – with businesses paying the company for every delivery it makes. Alternatively, retailers can buy the platform and pay for the operators and maintenance.
So far the robot has travelled over 80 miles in London, Boston, New York and San Francisco. Starship has also confirmed that a pilot study will commence in the London borough of Greenwich in 2016.
Founders Heinla and Janus Friis are funding the Starship project themselves.