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Packages and burgers next

Hamburg proving attractive testing ground for Starship Technologies' robots

Robots delivering packages may soon become common, if Henry Harris-Burland, Marketing Director at Estonia’s Starship Technologies has his way. A six-month pilot test begun in August 2016 in co-operation with Hermes and continuing in London is proving a big hit. “Customers were very satisfied and we have learnt plenty about interactions between people and robots and how to set up an efficient, leading global robot delivery service.” GPS-driven robots went back and forth between Hermes shops and select test customers in Hamburg’s suburbs of Ottensen, Grindel and Volksdorf. By late March, the robots had gone on around 600 tours and covered over 3,500 kilometres. Starship now has its own branch in Hamburg.

High-tech robots on Hamburg’s streets

Starship Technologies was launched in 2014 by the co-founder of Skype Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis in Tallinn and uses a comprehensive mix of technology. Harris-Burland noted: “The robot uses a sophisticated suite of sensors to drive independently and avoid obstacles. The technology involves computer vision, some machine learning, radar, ultrasound sensors as well stereo and TOF cameras.” For security reasons, a person always accompanies the robot, which can be ordered and opened with a mobile phone. The recipient receives an SMS when the robot is outside the door.

Burgers and pizza to come next

At present, Starship is testing its “Local Starship Delivery Robots” (A new name is due to be announced soon.) – in Hamburg with Foodora and Domino’s Pizza. So far, the robots have done test deliveries in 18 nations across the globe. “They are now are used daily in five countries: Britain, the United States, Estonia, Germany and Switzerland,” said Harris-Burland. Starship hopes to revolutionise local delivery services. He explained: “We want to help local companies to give residents convenient and affordable services and avoid traffic jams and pollution at the same time by reducing the number of cars and transporters on the roads.”

Lack of interest among passers-by

However, these clever little robots are not yet ready for mass production. So far, the test runs have yielded improved map data and can answer questions about whether robots can really be used to deliver packages and how to streamline processes to make them more cost efficient. But their success depends largely on customer acceptance and so far, passers-by have shown little interest in them, according to Harris-Burland. “Only 1 per cent of around 10 million people who have met the robot asked questions. Most just glanced briefly at the robot and then ignored it. However, children love the robot and some even stroked it as though it were a dog!”

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