Maybe you’re one of the lucky people living in a U.S. state that approved delivery robots to get you that Chinese food you’re craving or that care package from your friend living a couple of blocks away.
Five U.S. states recently approved using these types of delivery robots: Wisconsin, Idaho, Virginia, Florida, and now Ohio. London-based robot manufacturer Starship Technologies lobbied these five state legislatures to pass a law allowing robots to make deliveries. We first wrote about these robots back in January. Obviously, Starship Technologies has been hard at work for the past few months finding public distribution channels. All of the five states explicitly included budget for Starship’s delivery robot in their annual plans.
Founded by Skype co-frounders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis in 2014, Starship Technologies is a mixture of forward-thinking engineering and creative design. The company also has a manufacturing plant in Estonia, where it first began its startup roots.
Political Strategy and Strength
Starship prides itself on their six-wheeled delivery robot weighing much less than their competitors. That, and being more portable. This is certainly a huge advantage for the company complying with the five states’ legislature. Almost none of Starship Technology’s competitors can meet the maximum weight range allowed by the states: 50 to 90 lbs (22.7 to 40.8 kg). Fully loaded with parcels, the deliver robot weighs only 40 lb (18.1 kg).
For security, the robot’s cargo area is locked until delivered, and it can only be opened by the intended recipient. While there is no concrete plan for the possible theft of these robots, at least you can track their location to know when something’s not right. The robot also has obstacle detection, a sort of ‘situational awareness bubble’ around it. It uses its 9 cameras and ultrasonic sensors to detect obstacles, no matter if it’s a dog or a pedestrian or cyclist. The robot will work to always stop at a safe distance for all parties nearby.
The unmanned, nearly two foot tall robots are only permitted to use sidewalks and crosswalks. They’re equipped with nine cameras, a pop top, and a cute orange flag with LEDs. They can travel at a maximum of 10 miles per hour. And, for the time being, the robots can deliver packages unmanned. However, someone must be in the loop remotely to manually take over the robot’s motion in case of trouble. For now, the deliver robots can carry items within a 3 mile (5 km) radius, and you can monitor their entire journey on your smartphone.
Delivery Robots Pilot Program
Starship Technologies isn’t currently operating in any of the five states that have passed the law allowing their delivery robots. It doesn’t have a definite timeline on the robot’s debut either. But Starship hopes to start a pilot program in Florida this year.
Most noteworthy, Ohio’s state government redefined their definition of pedestrian and even slightly changed their definition of a driver. Their budget breakdown for the delivery robots reads, “Pedestrian [is] any natural person afoot. Pedestrian includes a personal delivery device. Driver or operator means every person who drives or is in actual physical control of a vehicle, trackless trolley or streetcar.” Starship lobbied hard to ensure their delivery robot implementation would go as smoothly as possible.
“We can’t operate on a permanent basis before there is a law.
– Allan Martinson, COO of Starship
Milestones Met and More Testing Needed
As of this May, Starship Technologies’ delivery robots have traveled a total of 50,000 km (around 32,000 miles). In December 2016, the robots achieved another milestone—encountering 3 million people. And in July of 2016, Starship Technologies held a 90% autonomous driving test in Silicon Valley.
Starship recognizes that its success in the five U.S. states comes from targeting them based on prior relationships that the Starship team had with local lawmakers. Especially those whose days revolve around sponsoring bills for testing self-driving technologies. One of these lawmakers is Senator Jeff Brandes of Florida.
While Starship Technologies succeeded in passing the required laws in five states, none of those states have very large metro areas. The United States’ largest metro areas—like New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago—haven’t approved use of Starship’s robots yet. The company also has never run a program in the United States where no person is controlling the robot.
As far as Europe, Starship received approval to operate in Estonia and currently testing in parts of London. We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait to see one of these little guys in action, delivering us a fresh, hot pizza.