Delivery robots from U.S.-based company Starship Technologies have come into their own during the lockdown as a way of delivering food to the residents and workers of Milton Keynes.
The autonomous robot delivery Service operated by Starship Technologies is the first commercial deployment in the UK, and since the beginning of March, has allowed Milton Keynes residents in the delivery area to get cooked food and small orders from supermarkets without having to leave the house.
Starship Technologies was founded back in 2014 by co-founders of Skype, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, who were joined 4 years later by Lex Bayer from Airbnb.
Starship first announced that it would be starting a robot food delivery service in Milton Keynes back in April 2018 where it had already partnered with Co-op in order to deliver groceries. At the time, as part of tests of the service, customers in the Milton Keynes area covered by the delivery services could pay a monthly subscription of £7.99 for an unlimited number of deliveries to an address of their choice, with the service operated via a phone app.
In January 2019 Starship Technologies launched a delivery service using the same kind of robots that are now being used in Milton Keynes UK in George Mason University campus in Virginia, USA.
The self-driving, six-wheeled delivery robots, which have multiple cameras, ultrasound sensors, radar, and GPS, can identify pedestrians and other obstacles as they make their way along pavements to their target destination.
The robots can carry items within a 4-mile (6km) radius, move at pedestrian speed, weigh no more than 100 pounds, and have a mechanically locked cargo bay that can only be opened by the recipient with their smartphone app.
The robot’s progress on its delivery route can be monitored via the phone app so customers know when to expect their delivery.
The company is reported as saying that its robot food deliveries in Milton Keynes have been particularly popular with younger customers and that the lockdown situation has added to what was already a huge surge in demand when the service was first trialled 2 years ago.
Starship Technologies have been building up this service for two years before launch, plus they have some months of commercial experience after running the service on a U.S. university campus. The coronavirus lockdown, however, has meant that more people have been prepared to try the service and have perhaps realised the benefits of speed, simplicity, and relatively low cost, as well as the reduced risk of being able to order from home. Although it may be predominantly younger people at the moment, and the closure of other food outlets coupled with pressure on companies like Deliveroo have helped boost the demand for Starship’s service generally, robot deliveries do appear to be well placed to take advantage of an opportunity and need in the marketplace for certain quantities and could provide a useful delivery service small businesses in their areas of operation. Post lockdown, their popularity looks set to continue in population centres where road traffic congestion is a problem, and/or on UK university campuses perhaps. Automation and autonomous vehicles look set to play a part in the new ‘normal’, albeit a relatively small but novel and environmentally friendly one to start with.