Might autonomous deliveries be coming on land rather than in the sky?

The plans by the likes of Amazon and Walmart to try drone based deliveries have been well publicized, but this isn’t the only delivery orientated innovation going on.

The team behind Skype have recently launched an automated delivery robot that is capable of carrying the equivalent of two grocery bags (ie ~ 10kg) up to 5 kilometers.

The robots, developed by Starship Technologies, aren’t travelling via air however, but instead trundle along our footpaths and roads to its destination.

Automated postmen

The hope is that as the robots are very much earthbound, they will get away from many of the concerns currently facing drone based delivery services.

Each device is equipped with an array of cameras and sensors, with navigation achieved via internal navigation and obstacle avoidance software, with the robot capable of travelling at 4 miles per hour.

Interestingly, the team claim that the robot is primarily autonomous, and is therefore capable of safely navigating the congested environs of your average pavement without harming pedestrians.

Indeed, human operators are only called into action in difficult situations and to communicate with pedestrians.

The robot’s ‘cargo hold’ is fitted with a lock to prevent theft of its contents, and an app is used to allow customers to track progress and then unlock the cargo when it arrives at its destination.

Automating the last mile

The ultimate aim is to provide a more effective means of delivering over the ‘last mile’, so businesses are a key market.  The team suggest a core use case will be for businesses to ship goods to a local hub, and the robot to then take things from there and deliver the goods to the customers door.

The automation of this final step promises to significantly reduce the costs involved in delivery, with deliveries possible within 30 minutes of arrival at the local hub.

“With ecommerce continuing to grow consumers expect to have more convenient options for delivery – but at a cost that suits them. The last few miles often amounts 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 team say.

It’s believed that a prototype will be trialled near the company’s London office in Greenwich early next year.

Check out the video below to see the robot in action.




11 thoughts on “Might autonomous deliveries be coming on land rather than in the sky?

  1. Interesting approach and all, but with Amazon et al backing drones then I can't ever see this land based approach taking off.

  2. Will they give way to other pedestrians? I don't want to be crowded out by a machine on a typical narrow UK residential pavement. We don't have pavement rules to match the Highway Code, and I'd not feel the same social obligation to help a robot navigate I would another human being.

    Also, eliminating trips to the shops is likely to reduce the exercise most people need. I know I have to invent journeys to achieve 10000 steps a day, and 'busy lives' these devices will offer to help are often not exercising ones.

    • Imagine when there are more than one company running these things. The pavements could quickly get overrun and the machines would become a real menace.

  3. Within a few years, the delivery-bots will routinely fall prey to newly-developed mugger-bots (remotely operated by foreign gangs), roaming with impunity until, finally, the police bobby-bot enters the fray and restores order.

    On a more serious note: something like this would seriously need turn signals to communicate its intentions to those around it. Much better visibility (particularly, to drivers, when it crosses a road) wouldn’t hurt either.

  4. How will a ground drone defend itself when someone attempts to rob it? I think flying drones have a slight advantage there, but then again people can always shoot it out of the sky. Oh, the life of a drone.

  5. I don't like this at all. Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not mobile delivery vehicles! I refuse to share the sidewalk with a delivery vehicle just so that some greedy corporate fat cat can save a few bucks. I hope the government steps in and regulates this crap. Leave the sidewalks for people, not machines!

  6. This seems like one of those ideas that would make perfect sense in a perfect world, but there seems to be so many ways this can go wrong.

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