Self Driving Delivery Robots: Will Santa Be Out Of A Job?

It may sound like a scene from a sci-fi movie, but soon to be a reality on your street, a crew of petite autonomous self-driving delivery robots could be marching up and down, delivering groceries to your doorstep. The co-founders of Skype, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, have set afloat their project, Starship Technologies, which is getting ready to drive their self-driving delivery robots in London.

According to a report in Reuters, they are small, safe to work with, and environmentally friendly, virtually free from CO2 emissions. They can deliver up to two shopping bags worth of groceries, and trot around at 4 m.p.h. They are designed to carry out local deliveries in between five and 30 minutes from an outlet. These self-driving delivery robots use proprietary mapping and navigation technology to avoid crashing into obstacles. Ahti Heinla said the following.

“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.”

A customer can track the robot’s journey upto delivery on an app in real time. The cargo bay has in-built security features. It is locked to prevent theft, which only the customer could open with the smartphone. The self-driving delivery robots will drive autonomously up to 99 percent of the time, but they will also be supervised by human operators when any intervention is needed. Any concern about theft makes the potential reward for a would-be robber not worth the risk. Heinla explained.

“While you might think that some people would want to steal something from the robot, it’s actually much harder than you would think. First, the parcel compartment is obviously locked. So it’s not easy to break into the robot, especially if you don’t have any special tools to do it. And most hooligans on the street, they don’t have special tools. Secondly, the robot has nine cameras and it’s constantly connected to the internet. It has GPS. There is an operator that can actually talk to people around the robot, there is a loudspeaker and microphone in the robot. So it’s not that easy actually.”

Boy rides a bike alongside the elf driving delivery robot [Image via Starship Technologies] Boy rides a bike alongside the self-driving delivery robot [Image via Starship Technologies]Google, Wal-Mart, and Amazon, too, are at the forefront of automated delivery services. Amazon recently launched a video showing a prototype of their technology of unmanned aerial drones for delivery. Starship Technologies, however, have some apprehensions with a flying drone. Heinla said the following.

“It’s safer than a flying drone. People actually do not like low flying drones, especially when they are flying over their backyard and it’s a buzzing, flying machine. If it’s doing a delivery for you maybe it’s okay, but of it’s doing a delivery for somebody else, you know, people don’t like that. People don’t like other machines flying over their backyard where their children are playing. So there’s huge social acceptance problems with the robots, with the robots that are flying. But not so much for the robots that are land-based, and safe, and look cute.”

The pilot project will be conducted in Greenwich, London. Starship Technologies will launch real-life trials of the robots in London and a couple of U.S. cities in Spring, 2016. Whether they are successful and we see self-driving delivery robots on our doorsteps with bagfuls of staples, or their fate will be similar to that of the HitchBot, who got vandalized, according to CNN, remains to be seen.

[Image via Starship Technologies]