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Delivery Robots Are Ready for Service

A glimpse into the future of smart, self-driving vehicles

As the future gallops towards us at an ever-increasing pace, the €25-million EU “Grow Smarter” Project is funding tests and pilot experiences concerning new and unproven technologies that can enhance people’s lives.

As part of the project, Starship Technologies, a new company created by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, has begun testing a fleet of “ground drones” – telematics-driven, autonomous, battery-powered vehicles – set to revolutionise the local delivery of corner shop goods and groceries in the London Borough of Greenwich.

“Our vision revolves around three zeroes: zero cost, zero waiting time and zero environmental impact,” explains Ahti Heinla, CEO at Starship Technologies. And the hope is that this new form of delivery will help to reduce, if not eliminate, the 33% of cars that clog Britain’s roads driving around for shopping errands.

Designed using “off the shelf” components, the robotic vehicles are lightweight and low-cost, enabling the company to bring the current cost of delivery down by 10-15 times per shipment. The self-driving ground drones travel at up to 4mph and are telematics-powered. They navigate via GPS, using sensors and software to avoid obstacles, hop up onto kerbs and keep out of danger, and are capable of carrying the equivalent of two grocery bags or about 20 pounds. The on-board battery lasts for about two hours and allows them to travel in a 5 to 30 minute range of their central recharging hub.

The self-driving delivery vehicles, which will be tested on-site for 3000 hours before being officially deployed, are intended to slip seamlessly and safely into the environment. Shoppers will be able to track their location in real-time via a mobile app and the vehicle’s “cargo bay” will remain locked throughout the journey and until it is ready to be opened by the recipient via smartphone. The vehicle is also equipped with nine cameras to capture photo and video footage of any troublemakers, plus a microphone and speaker to warn them off. Moreover, in case of malfunction, vehicle operation can also be taken over remotely.

Presenting an entirely new and altogether better delivery option for shoppers and kinds of businesses in general, autonomous delivery vehicles open up new opportunities, such as point-to-point delivery of goods, or “rental and return”. And, most importantly, they provide yet another glimpse, take one step further towards a future in which autonomous vehicles will drive humans around, rather than just groceries.

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