On a rainy Wednesday morning, two knee-high robots rolled down an Austin sidewalk to a small crowd of onlookers. This demonstration was designed to show how these autonomous robots are capable of delivering food or other packages to your doorstep, essentially replacing the delivery person.
These robots, which look a bit like a futuristic printer on wheels, are developed by London-based Starship Technologies, a two-year-old company that was started by the founders of Skype.
They come equipped with video cameras and GPS to help them maneuver on city sidewalks to arrive at their destination.
"The last couple of miles between a hub or store to a customer's door are notoriously inefficient," said Starship Technologies Marketing and Communications Manager Henry Harris-Burland. "No one is really making any money at it, it's very costly."
He said these mobile robots could help solve this problem, and offer greater convenience to the customer because it prevents missed packages.
Starship stopped in Austin to show off the robots because they are trying to build interest in testing them in U.S. markets. The company is not currently operating in any American cities.
Starship Technologies Marketing and Communications Manager Henry Harris-Burland said these robots are about to be deployed on to sidewalks in London and Germany. They have signed agreements with several companies to use their technology, including London-based Just Eat, a food delivery service.
Here's how Starship's robots are intended to work: When a customer pays for food or an item of clothing, an option to use the Starship robot will appear. If a customer selects this delivery option, they will receive a notice via an app or online when that item has been delivered to a nearby hub. After selecting a delivery time, the robot will arrive at your doorstep in 15 to 30 minutes, Harris-Burland said.
They aren't capable of climbing stairs or taking elevators, so a customer will have to meet the robot at the door, he said. Also, if the package or food isn't to your satisfaction, you can pop it back in the robot and send it back.
Of course, Starship isn't the only tech company trying to solve this problem. Amazon is famously about to test using drones to deliver its packages in the United Kingdom.
So when can we expect to encounter Starship robots on the sidewalks of Austin? Maybe soon.
Harris-Burland said Austin is at the top of their list for test cities because it is "innovative and forward-thinking." He said they are looking for commercial partners in the city, such as a grocery store, and that they will need to gain permission from the city of Austin.
But a city spokeswoman contacted by the American-Statesman said there are no regulations on the books that would prohibit a robotic device from operating on Austin's sidewalks.
News on Open Source is free and unlimited. Access to the rest of 512tech.com comes with an American-Statesman digital subscription, which also includes myStatesman.com and the ePaper edition. Subscribe at statesman.com/subscribe.