London-headquartered Starship Technologies says it is rolling out autonomous delivery services across Europe and the US, in what it describes as the first genuine attempt to commercialise delivery robots around the world.
The startup was founded in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis.
They said they aim to deploy 1,000 robots by the end of 2018, following successful trials with catering giant Compass Group on the Mountain View, California campus of financial software company Intuit.
Trials of the trundling electric lunchboxes – which can also deliver anything from office stationery to auto-parts at speeds of approximately 4mph – have taken place in cities around the world, with commercial use currently ongoing in Bern, Hamburg, Milton Keynes, San Jose, Talinn and Washington DC, amongst other cities.
Starship’s VP of Marketing, Henry Harris-Burland told Computer Business Review that campuses were an ideal target, as they were effectively “robot playgrounds”.
Test robots have covered over 100,000 miles around the world in 20 countries and over 100 cities, encountering over 15 million people along the way, Starship said, and the former Rolls-Royce marketing man told us that astonishingly, not a single one of the 25kg robots had been stolen thus far, with the reaction “overwhelmingly positive.”
He said: “When they are making deliveries on a pavement, the majority of people, surprisingly enough, ignore them.”
The robots, which are built in Estonia, are equipped with 10 cameras, radars, sirens and ultrasonic sensors, using sensor fusion to build a 3D map of their surroundings, and are 99 percent autonomous, although a command and control centre of robot operators in Estonia and Washington DC can step in at any point.
To date, the most common Starship delivery item at Intuit has been breakfast sandwiches, giving employees access to a meal frequently skipped, the company said.
The company would not disclose the cost of the robots – which are leased rather than sold to commercial partners. Their batteries last four hours and can be automatically swapped over in Starship “pods”, it added.