With all the focus on flying drones, grounded versions can fly under the radar, like the bot driving this latest business from the co-founders of Skype. Facilitating robotic deliveries in London, Starship Technologies aims to advance driverless automation in smaller steps, beating autonomous car companies to getting driver-free wheels on the ground in England.
The little driverless electric vehicles that will be making the rounds are six-wheeled rovers just over 20 inches tall and able to be packed with a sizable load of goods for short shipments.
Customers simply select items online, pick from delivery windows, then track progress on an app and tap on their logged-in device to open the lid when their shipment of stuff arrives.
Cruising at just four miles per hour, it remains to be seen how they will handle even sidewalk foot traffic, let alone road crossings. Its creators also presumably anticipate that a watchful public (and CCTV cameras) will help keep the little drones safe on their journeys. However, the bots can also directly relay distress signals to the police in an emergency or be remotely operated by human pilots as needed.
They also come with an antennae that both helps with wireless connectivity but also provides visibility beyond each drone’s natural height.
“Our vision revolves around three zeroes – zero cost, zero waiting time and zero environmental impact,” say the founders. “We want to do to local deliveries what Skype did to telecommunications.”
So far the robots have only been tested indoors (interoffice experiments), but the company aims to hit the streets (or at least sidewalks) next year.
It is in many ways an attempt to solve the ever-vexing ‘last mile’ problem: “The last few miles often amounts to the majority of the total delivery cost.”
“Our robots are purposely designed using the technologies made affordable by mobile phones and tablets – it’s fit for purpose, and allows for the cost savings to be passed on to the customer.”