Two former Skype founders are working on a venture to provide small wheeled robots designed to make local goods deliveries.

Robot rovers an alternative to drones for local delivery?

At a moment when a number of companies, with Google and Amazon currently out in front, are betting on unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones, as the future of parcel delivery services, another firm has just come up with a different solution. Two of the co-founders of Skype, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, have launched a company called Starship Technologies, which is planning to provide a delivery solution using small, wheeled delivery robots, with the first prototypes due to be tested in the United States and the UK in 2016. The basic idea is that these little autonomous robots will carry out small goods deliveries – of such items as groceries – over short distances, travelling along the pedestrian pavement. They move at a speed of about four miles – about six and a half kilometres – an hour, a fast walking pace, which according to the company means they will be able to make a delivery within a radius of two miles from a local shipping facility or retail store within thirty minutes or less.

Under the system envisaged by Starship Technologies, deliveries will be made from a network of hubs, depots and warehouses where these robots will be based. Each robot can carry goods weighing up to about nine kilos, i.e. the equivalent of two full shopping bags, packed in a secure internal compartment. The customer/recipient will use a mobile app to indicate his/her desired delivery window, and will be able to track the robot’s progress and then open the compartment via the app when the robot arrives. US technology news and media platform The Verge quotes Starship Technologies management claiming that the manufacturing cost of its robots will be low and that they will consume very little power. Can we conclude therefore that using these little robot rovers will work out cheaper than drones? Whether or not that is the case, there still remains one obstacle to overcome: at the present time autonomous vehicles, whatever their size, do not yet have general authorisation to run around in public spaces.

By Guillaume Renouard