It might not be long before your groceries are delivered by a robot that found its way to your house on its own.
Starship, a new startup founded by one of the co-founders of Skype, Janus Friis, and one of its original developers, Ahti Heinla, aims to use small, self-driving robots to deliver groceries for less than $2, according to The Telegraph.
The electric robots can carry about 20 lbs of groceries, and putter around at about 4 mph on sidewalks. They use cameras, GPS, and proprietary mapping software to figure out how to get from their distribution center to a customer’s front door. The company is currently testing out prototypes in the UK, and is aiming to have robots in service in 2016. One of the first test areas will be in southeast London.
Friis told The Telegraph that the robots can be controlled by humans at any time if anything unexpected comes up, adding that the robots will need to be driven by a human to help the robot get the lay of the land when it’s deployed in a new area. “The robots will drive autonomously up to 99% of the time,” Friis said.
The robots’ cargo will remain locked inside until it reaches the customer, where they will be able to unlock it with Starship’s mobile app. The robot will then return to base for charging and cleaning. According to a release, Starship aims to deliver groceries with its robots in under 30 minutes, for apparently about 10-15 times less than traditional delivery methods would cost per trip.
Starship told Quartz that in its initial testing, driving the robot around for 100 km (62 miles), roughly 80% of people apparently had no reaction to the robot, and 10-20% had a positive reaction. The robot can call the police if it thinks it’s being tampered with, but there was no indication of how it could avoid being stolen itself or smashed open for its goods.
It does weigh about 40 lbs when full, though, so perhaps that’s enough of a deterrent to would-be grocery thieves.
It’s looking like 2016 might be a big year for autonomous deliveries. Amazon, who has been testing out its drone delivery service for years, said in June that it plans to have its drones in the skies next year—assuming the US government has its regulations in place by then.
Wal-Mart is also working on drone delivery technology. Then there’s Savioke, a robotics company that already has its self-driving room-service butlers in five hotels in the US, performing a similar task to Starship’s robots, albeit on a smaller scale. There’s also Google, whose panda-shaped self-driving cars are on the streets of northern California, collecting more miles of real-world experience every day.
Perhaps soon we’ll be able to order a package to be driven to our homes as we wait for our self-driving butler to bring us the keys to our self-driving car. It’s a brave new world.