Self-driving delivery robot could be Santa's new helper

Sun Dec 20, 2015 6:25am EST
 
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By Matthew Stock

Fleets of small autonomous robots could soon become a familiar presence on public pathways with the advent of ground-based drones that aim to improve local delivery of goods and groceries.

Former Skype co-founders have launched a new company, Starship Technologies, which is preparing to test their self-driving delivery robots in London. The as yet unnamed robots are small, safe, practical and free from CO2 emissions, according to the developers.

"When you place your order online, as you do right now, but instead of getting the delivery by somebody coming up to your door and knocking on your door, you would get it by a robot," said Ahti Heinla, a Skype co-founder and CEO at Starship Technologies.

The robots can carry the equivalent of two bags of shopping and complete local deliveries in between five and 30 minutes from a designated hub or retail outlet. Heinla explained that the robots are not designed for long-distance orders, but for completing the final mile of a delivery. He said this puts the customer in control of their deliveries by allowing them to choose from a selection of short, precise delivery slots.

"When you as a consumer, when you find it convenient for you, you call up the delivery using your smartphone. And then the robot gets loaded with your parcel in our hub and it drives to your doorstep. And that takes about 20 minutes. So instead of having a delivery window of half a day or something that you're getting your delivery sometime during today; you can pick a delivery window that is like ten minutes," said Heinla.

When a package is out for delivery with a robot, the customer can track it in real time on their smartphone. When it arrives at the delivery address, the customer uses their smartphone to unlock the secure compartment to access their goods.

In Greenwich, London, close to where the pilot schemes will take place, the 'droid drew a few puzzled looks but also a largely positive response from passers-by.

"I'm very impressed. It's small, it looks safe, looks futuristic. Very clever idea, I think," said Jake.   Continued...