With Amazon's drones not yet a reality, a billionaire-backed startup is making the first steps toward BB-8 or Wall-E bringing home your weekly shopping. While that may sound fantastical, these robots are already rolling along sidewalks from Arkansas to Estonia, by way of London.
Starship, a company created by two of Skype's co-founders, has developed this six-wheeled delivery robot. It has already logged more than 1,900 miles in testing.
The robot's cargo hold is designed to carry up to 20 pounds and travel at up to four miles per hour. "“It’s basically designed to carry three good-sized bags of groceries,” says Allan Martinson, Starship's chief operating officer. Also, because the robot has a simple cargo hold, customers could use the robot to return items, be it dry-cleaning or wrong-sized shoes, to the retailer.
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Starship's robot has nine cameras to help it navigate busy city sidewalks. The robot is programmed to wait for large groups of people crossing in front of it. And while designed to operate autonomously most of the time, a human driver can pilot it remotely, if it gets into a bind.
With six wheels driven by four independent motors, the robot can climb single steps and curbs, potentially making a delivery direct to a customer's door.
In its trials so far, the Starship robots have encountered some 120,000 pedestrians. So far, no one has tried to abuse it. “It is really amazing but people seem to have an instant emotional connection to the robot,” says Starship co-founder Janus Friis.
An electronic lock keeps cargo safe en route, while the robot's ability to send an operator its current location and even live video feed from its cameras is designed to deter potential thieves.
While airborne drones are grounded in a regulatory fog, the wheeled bots travel on sidewalks not roads, which simplifies getting government approvals to operate.