Robotics startup Starship Technologies is set to expand its autonomous delivery project to universities and business campuses across the United States and Europe.
The move follows a successful launch of Starship’s robots at the Intuit Mountain View campus north of San Jose, California – in partnership with catering multinational, Compass.
Building trust one wheel at a time
Starship has been running pilot delivery schemes over the past couple of years in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, and Estonia, in partnership with Tesco, Postmates, DoorDash, Just Eat, Hermes, Swiss Post, and Wolt.
Last year in the London borough of Southwark, Starship worked alongside German logistics giant Hermes to put the technology through its paces. Since the beginning of this year, a fleet of the robots has been running errands at the Intuit Mountain View campus.
The company claims that its laser-printer-sized autonomous vehicles have covered more than 100,000 miles to date in 20 different countries, encountering over 15 million people along the way. Each delivery robot is knee-high, carries an LED warning flag, and contains a locked compartment that recipients can open with a smartphone app.
The robots, which drive autonomously and can sense and avoid obstacles, are monitored by humans who can take the controls should a problem arise – and on the various city tests that Starship has been conducting with Hermes and others, are also accompanied by human beings to monitor their safety.
The campus rollout will follow on from the system deployed in California, where Starship robots are deployed from pods that can be stationed in convenient locations.
These pods act as both storage units and maintenance hubs: battery-swapping is automated, and off-duty robots are stored safely. Starship’s hubs can be adapted to blend into particular campus architecture and come in various shapes and sizes, depending on the robots in use.
“We’ve partnered with Compass Group on the Intuit Mountain View campus in the US to provide accessible, convenient, and sustainable robotic delivery,” said Starship Technologies’ CEO, Ahti Heinla, “and after a successful start to the year and a great reception for our robots, we are planning to dramatically expand our services and distribute thousands of robots across campuses around the world by 2019.”
According to the company, the number of Starship delivery robots in service will reach 1,000 by the end of this year. The aim is to scale that further in 2019 and beyond.
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So far, the most popular items that Starship’s robots have been ferrying around the Intuit campus have been breakfast sandwiches. While there’s no doubting the convenience and time-saving benefits that come with food deliveries, it can be assumed that Starship has ambitions to take a bigger bite out of the courier market than that.
Many of the pilot schemes so far have been helped along by a $17.2 million investment round led by Mercedes-Benz Vans last year. The presence of a transport industry heavyweight suggests that moving hot meals across small areas may be the precursor to something bigger.
But in a world in which Amazon, Waymo, Baidu, DHL, and many more, are trialling autonomous delivery systems, Starship will have to think big – and fast.