Autonomous Delivery Robots Take Off in California

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Autonomous delivery robots, using cameras, GPS, and radar to sense their urban environment and navigate through it, will soon be introduced in a number of cities nation-wide. Developed by the London-based company, Starship Technologies, they will first be deployed in Washington, D.C. and in Redwood City, California, operated by delivery firms Postmates and DoorDash. Another firm, TeleRetail, plans to test its sidewalk robots in Washington and other cities, including Mountain View, California, this year. The robots are expected to provide an  inexpensive, high-tech, electricity-driven alternative to car-driven shopping trips and delivery trucks that contribute to traffic congestion and pollution.

“We think there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of robots on the ground eventually around the world,” said Allan Martinson, chief operating officer of Starship Technologies.

Customers will use a smart-phone mobile application to order their delivery. The robots are capable of carrying items within a 3-mile radius, and their movements are tracked throughout the journey by the delivery firm and on the customers smart-phone. Upon arrival, a text will send out the message, “You have a robot waiting for you outside”, when the robot is near their home or business. A person must be present to receive the delivery because only the customer has a unique code to unlock the robot’s box.

“We’re excited,” said Catherine Ralston, economic development manager of Redwood City. “They did a video in our downtown of the robot going into the bakery, picking up baked goods, and at the moment it rolled into City Hall, it popped open and presented the cookies to city council.”