Starship Technologies robots

Starship Technologies plans huge rise in number of bots on campuses worldwide

Image credit: Starship Technologies

Fleet to increase from 150 robots to 1,000 – but ‘social acceptance’ will be critical to success of the technology.

Estonian company Starship Technologies plans to deploy more than 1,000 of its small six-wheeled delivery bots to ‘work’ on 20 corporate and education campuses around the world by the end of this year – a move the company says could help banish tedious lunchtime queues at canteens and cut traffic on surrounding roads.

Customers who are employees of participating companies can order food via an app and drop a pin on a map at the location where they wish to meet a robot.

Their food order will then arrive at that location within around 17 minutes. If the customer does not arrive at the appointed location at the allotted time, numerous push notifications will be sent to their phone before the robot ultimately gives up and returns to the relevant food vendor.

The robots can go “anywhere a pedestrian can go”, Henry Harris-Burland, a marketing officer for Starship Technologies, told E&T today.

The company currently operates on just two campuses with a combined fleet of 150 robots. Its ambitious expansion plans are indicative of projected growth in the market for autonomous delivery vehicles worldwide.

Starship robots have already notched up in excess of 100,000 miles in total within the 20 countries – including Germany, Estonia and the USA – in which they now operate.

Pilot projects have taken place in the UK, but Milton Keynes is the only British location in which the bots are currently operating.

They have previously been unleashed in parts of London where they ferried takeaways to customers’ homes, driving along pavements at slow speeds – their top speed is 10mph – in order to avoid being squashed by traffic on roads.

Harris-Burland last year said the UK government had been “slower to react” compared with other jurisdictions.

He added: “From our own modelling, if robots were to do every last mile delivery, you would see a robot about once every 30 seconds on the pavement. Depending on who you ask that might seem a lot, but if you consider how many times you see a pedestrian on the pavement then it’s not much at all.

“Social acceptance is key to the success of the robots and it’s an area where Starship has been very pleasantly surprised. Believe it or not, the vast majority of people are positive about the robots.”

His comments came after E&T reported on concerns among pedestrians’ rights groups that space normally considered off-limits to motorised transportation might end up being colonised by delivery robots – something that would fly in the face of a legal convention in the UK that restricts vehicles to the roads.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, even went as far as to suggest that the rise of autonomous delivery vehicles could usher in a society like the one depicted in the Pixar’s animated science-fiction film ‘WALL-E’, in which obese people float about on chairs and never get any exercise because robots complete all tasks for them.

Starship has claimed the introduction of delivery robots at the corporate campus of American financial company Intuit in California prompted workers to move around and engage more in sporting activities or spot “local wildlife” while waiting for their food to arrive.

Supporters of delivery bots also say they could help solve the problem of air pollution in cities.

Ahti Heinla, Starship Technologies’ chief executive, said: “We’ve already partnered with Compass Group on the Intuit Mountain View campus in the US to provide accessible, convenient and sustainable robotic delivery. After a successful start to the year and great reception to our robots, we are planning to dramatically expand our services and distribute thousands of robots across campuses around the world by 2019.”

The firm claims none of its robots has so far been vandalised or stolen.

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