Autonomous Robots to Begin Delivering Food and Parcels in EuropeBy
Metro, Just Eat, Hermes and Prontok trial ground-based drone
Starship, backed by Skype alumni, begins customer deliveries
The next time you order food using the delivery app Just Eat in London, don’t be surprised if it’s brought to your door by a small, six-wheeled robot.
London-listed Just Eat Plc. will join German retail chain Metro AG, logistics company Hermes Group, and U.K. food delivery startup Pronto Technology Ltd., in trialing delivery using self-driving robots. Starship Technologies, the company that makes the droids, said Wednesday that Just Eat and Pronto will be using the robots in London, while Metro and Hermes will deploy them in Dusseldorf, Germany, and Bern, Switzerland, as well as another undisclosed German city.
Created by two Skype co-founders, Starship, which is headquartered in London and has its engineering research and development office in Tallinn, Estonia, has been testing its robots in 12 countries over the past nine months. This will be the first time businesses will be using the technology to deliver real orders to paying customers.
Allan Martinson, Starship’s chief operating officer, said in a telephone interview that each business’s trial will involve a fleet of between five to 10 robots in one or two areas of each city. He said Starship would likely announce further customers, including some in the U.S., within months.
The little robots, which are designed to operate on sidewalks rather than roads, make deliveries within a two- to three-mile radius. They can carry loads weighing as much as 20 pounds, at speeds of up to four miles per hour. Starship will operate the robots on behalf of the first customers, monitoring their progress remotely and standing by to drive the vehicles remotely if they encounter situations they can’t handle in autonomous driving mode. During test driving, the robots have encountered more than 400,000 people without having a single accident, the company said.
Ahti Heinla, one of Starship’s co-founders as well as its chief executive officer and chief technology officer, said in a statement that these pilot programs with customers were "the next phase" of the robot delivery company’s development. "We will now develop know-how on running real robotic delivery services," he said.
"We are continuously looking for ways to use technology to make our customers’ lives easier," David Buttress, the chief executive officer of Just Eat, said in a statement. "Starship is at the forefront of innovation in the delivery sector so it’s a natural fit for us to be partnering with them to bring delivery robots to our high streets."