German logistics giant Hermes has partnered with Starship Technologies to trial self-driving robots in London.
Plenty of attention has been given in recent months to the prospect of unmanned delivery vehicles. Retail and logistics leaders such as Amazon, Walmart and Swiss Post have all grappled with drone technology in order to deliver packages through the air. But as of yet their combined efforts haven’t amounted to much.
Instead of taking the aerial route, consumer delivery specialist Hermes is keeping its feet, or rather its wheels, firmly on the ground.
In partnership with Starship Technologies, Hermes will soon trial a number of autonomous robots for parcel collections and deliveries in the London borough of Southwark. The partners ran similar testing in the Ottensen, Volksdorf and Grindel suburbs of Hamburg last summer, and hope that fresh trials will help them better understand how robots could improve Hermes’ ability to offer an increased range of on-demand services.
An alternative to drones
With aerial deliveries held back by aviation regulations, fear over public safety and a lack of appropriate infrastructure, executives at Hermes and Starship Technologies believe self-driving delivery robots to be a viable alternative. In highly urban areas, a small, six-wheeled vehicle trundling along at 4mph poses significantly less threat than a propellered contraption falling out of the sky.
The delivery robots also have a sophisticated obstacle detection system, which allows them to build a picture of the area around them and create a ‘bubble of awareness’. Sophisticated sensors help them avoid people and to cross roads when it’s safe to do so. Despite this technology being largely in place, the London trial next month will be closely supervised by humans.
During testing, Hermes will be offering thirty-minute time slots for the collection of parcels in the Southwark area. These will either be items being returned to retailers or parcels from customers using the myHermes service.
After a successful trial delivering takeaways with pizza chain Dominoes, Starship’s robot delivery ‘bots are certainly in demand.
Carole Woodhead, CEO of Hermes, said: “Starship Technologies is a highly innovative and pioneering firm. We are extremely pleased to utilise their expertise to explore exciting new ways that will further strengthen our portfolio of services and offer greater choice and convenience for customers.
“We can already see first-hand the success they’ve had with food deliveries in London, and we are excited to team up with them in a bid to revolutionise the home delivery marketplace.”
How to keep robot packages secure
One advantage that aerial deliveries have over robots working on the ground is security. It’s near-impossible for parcels to be stolen or tampered with while they’re being flown from A to B.
Hermes’ and Starship Technologies’ solution is to give their robots a number of features to ward off interference. For starters, the robot carries nine separate cameras, a two-way audio system and an alarm system that activates if it’s picked up. They can also be tracked by a supervising team to the nearest inch.
In terms of package security, the lid is locked until the intended recipient clicks a link upon delivery.
It’s easy to envision autonomous delivery robots carefully making their way through the city centres of the future. A spokesman for Hermes told Internet of Business that the aim is for the robots to be 99% autonomous in the future. This could mean that a remote human operator would monitor several robots at the same time and take control only when required.