Starship Brings Home Delivery Back Down to Earth

So as we move into 2017, we have yet to see any wide scale successful role out of drone delivery systems, first alluded to by Amazon back in 2013. Since then companies like Google, WalMart and other various delivery companies have attempted such methods to tackle ‘last mile delivery’. While there is a lot of scope for drones in delivering small or high value items they are restricted by weight, size and range due to battery life. There is also the issue that drone delivery of cheaper items may not prove cost effective while high value items could attract security issues.

So what’s on the horizon? An Estonian company called Starship Technologies, set up by Skype cofounders Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla, has developed a ground based delivery system for delivering packages and food autonomously. It has just received a $17.2 million in seed funding from Daimler automotive group and has also been partnering with Mercedes Benz on the Robovan project. These are purpose built Mercedes vans which will act as a central hub for up to eight Starship delivery robots. The Robovan will be able to park in a neighbourhood location and send the robots out to deliver to multiple addresses within a two-mile radius of the van, making the service ideal for local grocery deliveries. The robots are currently being tested in Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland amongst other countries. When interviewed, co-founder Ahti Heinla stated that his delivery robots are inherently safe due to sensors and software that make it move out of the way or stop on encountering a pedestrian. The robot is also supervised remotely by humans, who can take control if an issue occurs. Heinla has stated that in 8,000 miles of testing, the robots have encountered more than 1 million pedestrians and without incident. The robots use a nine-camera system and GPS technology, as well as their own built in navigation and mapping system, to move autonomously using pavements rather than roads. They are also able to navigate pedestrian crossings according to the company.

In truth this is not the only initiative to make home delivery systems a reality. Domino’s Pizza is trialling a similar system for delivery while a robot called Relay built by Savioke can deliver drinks and towels to your hotel room. Although Relay has only to deal with hotel corridors rather than the outside world, it can navigate and control elevators and, being fully Wi-Fi enabled, call your phone once outside your room. It is also capable of dock charging its batteries when running low.

So it would appear that the vision of drone delivery has yet to be fully realised and that traditional delivery systems will prove safer and more cost effective for the meantime. We all wanted flying cars, but in reality it is what separates the real world from the movies.

Dan Withers is a staff writer for the popular bargain online sales website

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