East Bay will soon get Robots Delivering Groceries
Starship Technologies, the brains behind Skype, have started a new venture that will have autonomous robots bearing groceries, parcels and take-out on the streets of downtown Concord. In August, Starship Technologies approached Concord seeking permission to conduct a 12-month pilot program of their black-and-white “personal delivery devices,” which travel on six wheels and use nine cameras to navigate sidewalks and cross streets on their delivery runs. In addition to testing its delivery robots in such cosmopolitan European capitals as London and Tallinn, Estonia, Starship Technologies has pilot projects in the heart of Silicon Valley in Redwood City, San Carlos and Sunnyvale. Up to a dozen robots will operate in a four-mile area in Concord. Starship Technologies currently works with meal-delivery services DoorDash and Postmates. Concord Councilwoman Carlyn Obringer stated,
When I was back in Washington, D.C. back in June, I literally had one of these run right past me. So, I was kind of excited when I came back to Concord to hear that you were planning to test here. I look forward to seeing how all this plays out.
According to Pedro Garcia, economic development specialist, the robots will benefit local restaurants and burnish the city’s image as a hub for autonomous device testing. At this point, the 25-pound robots are not completely autonomous. Initially, handlers will accompany the robots, which can travel at a top speed of 4 mph. As the robots roam the sidewalks, the on-board cameras create a 3-D map of the area. The electric couriers are programmed to stop at driveways and crosswalks, which is when the human operator takes control. Customers place and pay for orders online and may use a mobile app to set up the delivery time and track the robots. When the robot arrives, the company sends a text with a link the recipient clicks to unlock it. This robot delivering system is a great step in advancing the technology to autonomously deliver food and supplies, which could eventually be used for rescue missions.