Delivery robots by Estonia’s Starship Technologies are still causing a stir among passersby – especially when 6D9 finds its own way using GPS navigation. The six-wheel, 70 × 55 delivery robot avoids traffic lights, potholes and oncoming pedestrians. Henry Harris-Burland, Head of Marketing at Starship Technologies, explained: “The robot uses a demanding suite of sensors to drive itself and to avoid obstacles. That includes computer vision, elements of machine learning, radar, ultrasound sensors, stereo und TOF cameras.”
Insight into human-robot interaction
Such delivery robots may soon become common in cities as Starship Technologies is growing and adding customers, said Harris-Burland. Launched in 2014 by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, Starship Technologies operates in several cities with multiple partners. Last April, the company opened a branch in Hamburg and recently moved from betahaus to premises in Eimsbüttel. The company is now hiring and scouring for new collaborative partners. The first partner, Hermes Germany has concluded an initial, six-month test phase of package delivery with the robots. Harris-Burland commented: “The customers were very pleased and we learnt a great deal about interaction between humans and robots and how to set up an efficient, world-leading robot service.” The project also sparked great interest in Hamburg as the city is presently examining last mile solutions. The Ministry for Economics, Transport, Traffic and Innovation has developed Smart Last Mile Logistics (SMILE) with start-ups and KEP to gather ideas for more sustainable urban logistics. The project tackles the challenges posed by e-commerce such as increasing parcel deliveries by courier, express and package services (KEP).
Service available to local companies
At present, the robot delivers Domino’s Pizza and orders placed with Foodora as well. “But we can work with any local company that wants to provide a delivery service – from butchers to launderettes,” Harris-Burland stressed. Wine merchants, bakeries and pharmacies are also suitable. However, the robots cannot take to the streets alone yet and are still accompanied by a person. Starship Technologies is hoping for a nationwide regulation that rates the robot an ordinary road user. “That would allow us to expand our business and to increase the number of robots on pavements.” Potential clients can test the service easily, Harris-Burland promised. Starship Technologies has recently set up a new service to achieve that goal. “You just have to enter the pick-up and delivery addresses as well as the customer’s name and telephone number. The robot will arrive within minutes – or as soon as you click on ‘enquiry’.”
Hamburg welcoming new technologies
Harris-Burland stressed: “Hamburg is a very innovative city – a first-mover and a city that welcomes technology. This is where we completed over thousands of kilometres of tests on pavements.” But the company is interested in Germany as a whole as the country is pivotal to it’s European operations and the market is burgeoning. “Meanwhile many companies across the globe are building delivery robots and this emerging industry is becoming more and more exciting.”
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