The Takeaway Delivering Robots

Self-driving robots with the power to deliver shopping and takeaways wowed audiences at September’s Takeaway & Restaurant Innovation Expo at London’s ExCeL. 

Starship Technologies, the Estonian innovators behind the development of the robots, were present throughout the show’s two days, highlighting the units – which resembles a six-wheeled buggy – and showcasing its potential to deliver food and goods to customers within a short radius of their point of origin. 

The devices are already in action in a number of European countries including with Just Eat in the UK; they have also undergone tests in the USA, where Starship’s Marketing and Communications Manager Henry Harris-Burland confirmed the service is being tested out in collaboration with various food and parcel delivery services.

He said: “Why robots? They’re cost efficient, particularly for the kinds of small deliveries food retailers often find the most expensive.”

So how does it work? Well, customers order online and a robot is then sent to deliver the goods in as little as 15 minutes. With the small delivery radius in mind, Starship are experimenting with sending a van filled with the robots to a central neighbourhood point, and then dispatching them to a neighbourhood simultaneously. 

Moving at a speed of four mile per hour, the robots navigate with the help of GPS, cameras, sensors, and proprietary maps and can self-navigate obstacles. If required, a remote human operator can take control. Once the device has reached its destination, the contents are released by the customer through an app code, and the robot is then sent back. 

The units have a payload capacity of around £20, and Harris-Burland acknowledged that this limitation would make a large weekly food shop impossible. He said: 

“You could conceivably have a row of five robots carrying a large order, but that’s not what this has been designed for. We’re looking at the on-demand market, which is the way we’ve found people want to shop today. They’re buying food almost everyday.”

Due to many cities requiring special permits for unmanned vehicles, it may be a while before the robots are navigating our streets.