Picture this: You're hungry, so you order some food online. But when it comes 30 minutes later, it's not being handed to you by a human. Instead, you pluck it out of a robot.
It sounds weird, but some of the founders of Skype want to make it a reality. So Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis started a company called Starship Technologies. Their concept is an autonomous delivery robot that drives on sidewalks and looks like a small cooler on wheels.
We first learned all about the robot — called Starship — late last year, and how the company wants it to help small suburban businesses make low-cost deliveries with almost no added infrastructure. It's not a flashy idea — Starship tops out at 4 miles per hour and carries about 20 pounds worth of stuff — but it seems inherently safer than the delivery drones and autonomous trucks that Amazon and Google are thinking about. For instance, Starship's onboard cameras and AI help it avoid running into objects, and the robot will even move out of the way of nearby pedestrians.
The company brought a prototype of the delivery robot here to Mobile World Congress, so we got our first chance to see it up close and meet the team behind Starship. It's as adorable in person as you might imagine, but it sadly wasn't driving itself around — instead, an employee was piloting it with a PlayStation controller.
Allan Martinson, the company's chief operating officer, has big plans for Starship in 2016. The first step is the immediate production of 12 more prototypes. Starship Technologies then wants to expand its testing in UK and to the US by April, and after that they plan to achieve 20,000 miles of testing in about a six-month timeframe.
Those last few goals are lofty not only because of inevitable regulatory hurdles, but also because Martinson says Starship has only performed about 700 miles of testing so far in London. That testing has apparently gone really well though, he says. The robot sometimes goes unnoticed by adults, but kids "like to pet it and try to feed it," which is obviously something that the company needs to consider how to deal with going forward. Luckily though, Martinson says, "not a single person has kicked it."