Full disclosure – I’m a little biased having been immersed in the world of delivery robots for the last few years. However, for me one of the biggest technological developments in the last 25 years has been the proliferation of companies offering autonomous delivery services.
The starting point for all of this was the Estonian founded company Starship Technologies, which created the robot delivery category back in 2014. The brainchild of Skype co-founders, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, Starship has been the flag bearer and standard setter for the last mile of autonomous delivery.
Fast forward to today, and Starship’s robots have completed more than four million commercial autonomous deliveries all around the world, more than any other provider. They cross 140,000 roads every single day come wind, rain, snow, or shine!
Of course there has been a huge amount of engineering work behind the scenes to get Starship’s robots to the point they are at today, happily trundling along college campuses in the US, industrial campuses in Germany and through local neighbourhoods in the UK.
However, what I think I find just as impressive as all of the incredibly advanced technology that means the robots know where to go on their own (sensors, AI, ML, computer vision-based navigation etc) is the fact that the robots are so well loved in the communities they operate in.
This too hasn’t happened by chance, with a lot of thought, planning and work going into the design process. But it’s still somewhat amazing the first time you go to one of the towns/cities where the robots are in service and you see that most of the time people are completely ignoring them as they go about their business, so used are they to seeing them.
This great article by Michael Dempsey for the BBC goes into a lot more detail about human-robot interaction and how and why these 6-wheeled robots have become so popular. However, it’s not just about winning hearts and minds of course. There has to be a business case for these robots to exist – and through partnerships with retailers such as Co-op and Tesco, Starship is demonstrating just that.
Convenience, ease of use, lower costs and no carbon emissions or congestion all add up to a powerful case for autonomous robots disrupting the last mile of delivery for good. Who knows what else robots will be doing to help make our lives easier in 25 years’ time?