I see robots outside on the pavement right now. I see them almost daily, crossing roads and climbing curbs. I’ve even seen them talk to pedestrians. This is not sci-fi, or irobot but the reality today in over 30 cities in the US and Europe.
I am talking about Starship delivery robots. They deliver groceries, hot food and other bits and bobs to residents in communities across the globe. They travel at walking pace on pavements and sidewalks, looking a little bit like a cooler box on wheels. Delivering in around 30 minutes, the robot and its groceries can be summoned through an app on your mobile. Your precious groceries and food are safe at all times, with the lid being locked, alarms, and tracking to the nearest inch at all times during the journey.
Why delivery robots and why now? Delivery is a tough business. These companies find it incredibly difficult to make a sustainable, profitable business when using traditional methods for delivering things quickly. Margins are razor thin on groceries in the first place, but once you add the idea of having them delivered in 30 minutes or less, it becomes a serious challenge to turn a profit.
The gig economy has helped delivery companies access labour at flexible times that suit them, but at what cost to working conditions? Gig economy workers are rarely making minimum wage for very hard repetitive work. I don’t think this is how we want to live and work in the future, we can do better for workers and businesses.
Starship is the first autonomous delivery company in the world to sustainably offer on-demand delivery at a cost lower than traditional methods. This is a big deal, because when we started in 2014, delivery robots were, unsurprisingly, the most expensive way to get your food delivered. As the technology has improved, and our experience completing millions of autonomous deliveries grows, our costs have dramatically fallen – something we can pass onto our partners and customers.
We’ve spoken to thousands of customers over the years after they’ve been using robot delivery, and we’ve found some interesting statistics. In the UK, 53% of Starship customers who have driven to the shop if Starship wasn’t available. We’ve managed to save over 1500 tons of Co2 from reducing car journeys in local neighbourhoods.
This was a benefit that we didn’t previously lean into, but now is becoming increasingly important and urgent as congestion, pollution and the climate get worse. The amount of energy it takes to complete a robot delivery is about the same amount as boiling the kettle for one cup of tea!
Another piece of information we had been unaware of is how many people with accessibility challenges were using our service regularly to help them. 23% of customers in the UK had either accessibility challenges themselves, or lived with someone that did. When our company was founded in 2014, building robots to deliver food was a moonshot, but now, 9 years later, our robots are making a positive difference in the world, helping thousands of people every day.
A top tech innovation of the last 25 years? Delivery robots have to make the cut. A product that wasn’t invented and didn’t exist pre 2014, there are now tens of companies around the world building delivery robots, making millions of deliveries a year. I have no doubt that in the coming years, this type of delivery will become more and more common in cities and suburbs globally, and I’m proud to say it all started with Starship.