The six-wheeled, robots from startup Starship Technologies are part of a new wave of automated delivery systems taking aim at the “last mile” delivery of goods to consumers in a radius of two miles (three kilometers).
Starship is launching a pilot project of robotic deliveries of parcels, groceries and prepared foods in early February in the US capital Washington, with a similar test taking place in Redwood City, California.
The startup founders of Starship are Skype, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, has already begun testing in several European cities. The goal is to enable delivery within a radius of two miles within 15-30 minutes of an order, for $1 or less, with the autonomous robots traveling on sidewalks and alerting consumers of their arrival via smartphone app.
“We’re trying to solve real social and economic problems,” Harris-Burland said during a demonstration of the delivery bots in Washington.
“This will take cars and vans off the road. We can also provide deliveries to the elderly and handicapped who have difficulty getting around.”
The company, which has its business office in London, engineering in Estonia and some 90 employees, announced in January it had raised $17.2 million, led by Daimler AG with other investors as it moves to expand its testing and partnerships.
While the Starship robots roll at a modest pace of around four miles (six kilometers) per hour, Harris-Burland said they offer a more efficient and economical delivery model than drones, which are being tested by online retail giant Amazon and others. The rolling robots are far less expensive to build and operate than drones.
He said drones might be better-suited to remote and rural areas, while the Starship bots are designed for cities and suburbs, where they can roll along on sidewalks.
“We don’t see these as competing with drones, we see it as complementary,” Harris-Burland said.