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Nov 07

Robot Deliveries

starshipSkype founders Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla are leaving their offices and moving into the streets with their latest venture, Starship Technologies, which they hope will transform how goods are transported to consumers. Instead of the omnipresent man-and-a-delivery-van, they hope to be operating fleets of self-driving distribution robots that will take over delivery in the ‘last mile’. The notorious ‘last mile’ is known to be the most inefficient component of shipments in today’s delivery-focused society, especially in cities where the last few kilometres often takes up most of the total shipping cost. With setups in London and Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn, the company is testing a wheeled robot that it expects to be cheaper and faster, and also more eco-friendly than the traditional man-and-a van delivery method. Each wheeled robot is built from off-the-shelf electronics, including an array of sensors to allow it to travel alongside pedestrians on regular pavements. Although the robots will be equipped with collision evasion as well as navigation software and are planned to run independently the majority of the time, they will also be able to be controlled by a human operator for safety reasons and to ensure that the deliveries are successful. The robots will have the capacity of a small car boot in which to carry items which will be locked inside the robot and openable only by the receiver. For the plan to be successful, deliveries will still be moved in bulk by current human methods to regional centres before being turned over to the robots for the final step. As they travel around, the robots will be monitored by the controllers and also accessible by the delivery recipients using an app.  Currently, the company is in the testing phase but expects initial trial services to begin operating in several countries in 2016.