Although many companies including Amazon and Google are betting on airborne drones as the future of home delivery, startup Starship Technologies thinks it can do the job with six-wheeled delivery robots. The company is currently gearing up for trials across Europe, and this morning announced a partnership with Mercedes-Benz to develop what it's calling the 'Robovan' — a modified Sprinter van designed to ferry Starship's robots around cities.
The bots themselves are expected to solve the last mile problem of getting food and packages to customers' doorsteps, while the vans will operate in a wider 10-mile radius. Only one prototype vehicle currently exists, able to hold eight Starship bots that enter and exit on ramps. Algorithms determine the most efficient route for the van as well as the drop-off location for the bots, with a human driver loading up the deliveries by hand. Starship claims this method will allow for 400 packages to be delivered in a nine-hour shift.
Speaking to Wired, Starship Technologies COO Allan Martinson said the van was necessary "because the robots are limited in their radius in the last two to three miles as people don't want to wait for on-demand deliveries." He added: ""In order to get goods and e-commerce packages to an area, you still need to use vans and that's the best delivery method for the first 10 miles from the delivery centre. By merging vans and robots so we get the best of both worlds we can get a very efficient delivery."
The robots themselves are equipped with cameras and sensors for semi-autonomous navigation, but are being piloted by humans for initial trials. The bots' trunks are unlocked with a code sent to the package's recipient, and built-in speakers will be used to ward off would-be thieves. Starship has yet to announce when the technology will be in use commercially but says trials are ongoing, with real-life deliveries already taking place (albeit sporadically) with partners in London.