Semi-autonomous robot deliveries to roll out in U.S.

For air cargo firms looking for a low-cost – and undeniably cute – last-mile delivery system, a new semi-autonomous robot, launched by Starship Technologies, will soon begin running deliveries for restaurants through Postmates and DoorDash services. The DoorDash trial will take place in Redwood City, and Postmates customers can expect robots at the door in Washington, D.C.’s city limits.

The six-wheeled robots have a payload of twenty pounds and, at a top speed of four miles per hour, are restricted to sidewalks.

When the robot arrives, customers will be sent a secure link that unlocks the robot’s hatch. For transit, cameras, GPS, built-in alarms, and a two-way radio secure the delivery of your shrimp pad Thai.

The robot uses nine cameras and GPS to construct a 360-degree, 3D map of its surroundings. It navigates a pre-mapped out grid, however the technology is still too untested to handle fully autonomous deliveries. Starship Technologies’ minders will be on hand to remotely pilot the bots if anything goes wrong.

Autonomous ground delivery has the same disruptive potential as aerial drones, which companies such as 7-Eleven are testing for last-mile delivery. E-commerce shippers routinely face obstacles and high costs delivering goods to remote, or hard-to-navigate deliveries. Just as importantly, last-mile deliveries are expensive, however Starship Technologies aims to reduce the cost of delivery to US$1 or less.

The startup behind the robots was founded in 2014 by some of Skype’s founders, and is based in Estonia.

While the bots have encountered 2.8 million people and covered 14,500 miles during testing, with no reported vandalism or theft, it remains to be seen how Americans, raised under the constant threat of Skynet, react to the new delivery service.

Those interested in learning more about where air freight and list mile solutions are headed in 2017, should join us at Cargo Facts Asia in Shanghai, 25 – 26 April.  To register, or for more information, go to CargoFactsAsia.com.

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