French supermarkets to trial ‘Star Wars’-inspired delivery robots
Image credit: Reuters
A French supermarket chain plans to use robots, inspired by the iconic R2-D2 droid in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, to deliver groceries to customers in Paris.
Stepping up the race for automated deliveries with online retailers such as Amazon, Casino’s Franprix chain will test the delivery robots on the streets of Paris’s 13th arrondissement (district) for a year.
In the French capital, where Amazon has been running its Amazon Prime Now express delivery service since 2016, the speedy and convenient delivery of food has become a growing competitive area among retailers.
“This droid will facilitate the life of city dwellers. The last mile delivery is crucial. This is what builds the relationship with customers,” said Franprix managing director Jean-Pierre Mochet.
“We are going to test three droids in this store. If the test is successful, we may extend it to other Franprix stores,” Mochet added about the service, which will be free.
Franprix and its partner, French start-up TwinswHeel – which developed the currently unnamed robot – are running the test after the city’s authorities approved the south-eastern arrondissement for the experiment.
In its initial trial, the company will use the robot in store to carry purchases for customers – mainly individuals with reduced mobility or the elderly – and take their goods to their homes.
Using a ‘Follow Me’ button on the autonomous machine, the robot is paired with customers through visual recognition, allowing them to follow the customers into the store and on to the street.
The electric vehicles also have two large wheels, a suitcase of either 30 or 40 litres and can run for 25km (15 miles) on one charge.
Initially, the robot will not venture on to the streets on its own, instead it will be accompanied by an operator; this is because Franprix does not yet have permission for the machine to travel solo.
To get permission for it roam on its own, legislation needs to be changed, Mochet said, adding that he hoped that would happen soon.
In the future, Franprix and TwinswHeel hope customers will be able to order goods online or in store, and the droid will take them to the shoppers’ homes and announce its arrival by text.
The message sent to the customer will include a code that would unlock the robot’s suitcase and unpack the purchase goods. Its larger robots could also be used by store staff to re-stock shelves.
Franprix, which made €1.6bn (£1.38bn) of sales last year from its network of 900 stores, is not the only supermarket company trialling robots for the same purpose.
In 2018, US grocery giant Kroger launched an automated delivery trial in partnership with driverless delivery firm Nuro. Having completed the first phase in Scottsdale, Arizona, the company recently announced plans to transfer the programme to Houston, Texas.
In Britain, Tesco and Co-op are testing a six-wheeled delivery robot in Milton Keynes with Starship Technologies.
In January 2019, food and beverage giant PepsiCo trialled self-driving robots for the purpose of delivering food, initially offering a robot delivery service for students at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.