Having a deliveryman bring items to your home may become a thing of the past one day.
A robot that can drive itself on sidewalks to make door-to-door deliveries is going to be tried out in London and some as-yet-undisclosed U.S. cities in the coming months.
The small, black-and-white, slightly rounded machine on six wheels doesn’t look like much, but that’s the idea — it can blend in with the pedestrian traffic. Lightweight, it can only carry a small amount in its top compartment — two grocery bags or small packages up to nine kilograms.
The London-based developer, Starship Technologies, said the unnamed robot is practical, safe and environmentally friendly. Ahti Heinla, the company's chief executive officer who also co-founded Skype, said a user would place an order online, "as you do right now, but instead of getting the delivery by somebody coming up to your door, and knocking on your door, you would get it by a robot.”
The electric rover isn’t made for long distances. Moving at 6.5 kilometers per hour (4 miles per hour) — a brisk, walking pace — it can travel up to 5 kilometers, and from a local hub or retail outlet it can complete deliveries within a half hour.
An advantage for customers is that they can use a smartphone app to decide when they want deliveries to arrive. "You call up the delivery using your smartphone,” Heinla said. “And then the robot gets loaded with your parcel in our hub, and it drives to your doorstep.”
Once the robot gets moving by using a navigation system that also helps it avoid pedestrians, the customer can use the smartphone app to track it and, upon arrival, unlock the compartment.
A lot of thought has been put into protecting the android from thievery.
“It’s much harder than you would think,” Heinla said. “The robot has nine cameras and it’s constantly connected to the Internet. It has GPS. There’s an operator who can actually talk to the people around the robot, so there’s this loudspeaker and microphone in the robot.”
The company wants to create a fleet of robots that it said would deliver local packages faster and almost for free.
Firms like Amazon and Google are working on airborne drones for deliveries. But Starship Technologies sees its technology firmly on the ground.