Germany automotive firm Continental is best know for its tires, but at CES 2019 the company is demonstrating something a little different: package delivery by robot dog.
As part of its research into the future of mobility, Continental has partnered with robotics company ANYbotics (a spin off from ETH Zurich) to imagine the future of package delivery. In a staged demonstration on the CES show floor, the firm showed how one of ANYbotics’ four-legged robots could jump out the back of a self-driving delivery truck and carry a package right up to someone’s front door.
In the demo, the ANYMal robot could be seen slowly picking its way over debris in the garden before ringing the fake doorbell with one if its limbs. It then tips the package off its back onto the porch and performs a little victory dance as a bonus.
As you might guess from the staged nature of this demo, Continental has no plans to make this a real service any time soon. But how realistic is this vision of the future?
In short, it’s a way off. Legged robots aren’t yet reliable enough for this sort of task, but some companies are exploring this space. Famed robot-maker Boston Dynamics has said its quadrupedal robot SpotMini (which goes on sale this year) could be used for delivering packages, while startup Agility Robotics from the University of Oregon, which makes the bipedal bot Cassie, has said the same. But neither of these companies have any plans to offer actual robot-delivery services.
Speaking to The Verge in 2017, Damion Shelton of Agility Robotics said the advantage of using legged robots for this job is they can more easily navigate human environments — particularly steps. “If you consider humans from a design standpoint, what we were designed for is being extremely agile in an extremely cluttered environment,” said Shelton.
But until legged bipedal bots become faster and more reliable, companies are turning to a more tried-and-tested technology: wheels. A number of startups and established firms (including Domino’s and PepisCo) are experimenting with using wheeled robots for last-mile delivery, particularly for serving up food. Continental’s dream of using robot dogs is certainly more ambitious, but it’s also less likely to come true in the near future.