Self-driving robots head to UK

Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis have launched a new company, Starship Technologies, which will see delivery robots hitting the streets next year. “Our vision revolves around three zeroes – zero cost, zero waiting time and zero environmental impact. We want to do to local deliveries what Skype did to telecommunications.” says Heinla. Capable of carrying the equivalent of two grocery bags, the robots can complete deliveries within 5-30 minutes from a local hub or retail outlet, for 10-15 times less than the cost of current last-mile delivery alternatives, according to Starship Technologies. Shoppers select a delivery slot and can then track the robot’s location in real-time through a mobile app; on arrival only the app holder is able to unlock the cargo. Integrated navigation and obstacle avoidance software enables the robots to drive autonomously, but they are also overseen by human operators who can step in at all times.

Heinla adds: “With e-commerce continuing to grow consumers expect to have more convenient options for delivery – but at a cost that suits them. The last few miles often amounts to the majority of the total delivery cost. Our robots are purposely designed using the technologies made affordable by mobile phones and tablets – it’s fit for purpose, and allows for the cost savings to be passed on to the customer. The robots travel at the slow speed of four miles per hour – a brisk walking pace. They don’t fly – these are not drones. They travel on pavements/sidewalks, blending safely in with pedestrian traffic.”

Starship Technologies is currently testing and demonstrating prototypes and plans to launch the first trial services in cooperation with its service partners in the US, UK and other countries in 2016. One of the first pilot areas will be Greenwich in SE London.

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