Tech Talk: Starship's Self-Driving Robot Delivers The Goods

Just as big names like Alphabet and Amazon begin taking the wraps off of their drone delivery bot aspirations, competition springs up. Naturally, the field isn't quite saturated yet. Starship, a startup founded by Ahti Heinla, one of the founding members of Skype, is looking to keep it that way. They have created a self-driving robot that can store and deliver various goods just a hair faster than walking speed. That may sound slow compared to normal delivery, but there are definite upsides.

Starship's delivery bot is basically a container on wheels that can roll itself to your door via sidewalk, avoiding obstacles, pedestrians and other hazards along the way. The goal of the project is to make delivery not only much cheaper and easier, but also much more Earth-friendly. The robot uses less power than your average light bulb and a very minimal environmental footprint. The robot rolls about its business at the user's command, arriving at your door when you specify to eliminate waiting around for a delivery courier who would arrive at any given time. Its payload, roughly equivalent to two shopping bags, can only be unlocked by the person who is expecting delivery. You can also follow the diminutive mech's progress using a companion smartphone app.

The little robot will have to face some challenges in the coming years, but it may see mainstream adoption simply because it will become available faster and perhaps be cheaper than delivery drones. The London startup claims that the robots' autonomous driving software is ready for primetime, but living creatures are unpredictable. It's not hard to imagine robots being knocked over by excited animals, kicked by people in bad moods, fallen on, crashed into and even outright stolen. Naturally, these are all things that would happen much less often to a drone courier, being out of reach of anybody without a projectile or significant hacking knowledge. Starship is planning to run a pilot program with the delivery robot in 2016, spanning the US and UK on a somewhat limited scale. If the program is successful, we may see these little buckets of bolts bringing home the goods in larger numbers and in more places. Once drone delivery bots are a part of the picture, Starship will have some serious competition, but perhaps the benefits will outweigh those of the competition, if Starship can overcome the inherent challenges.

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