Ahti Heinla, Co-Founder & CTOIf trucks carrying goods cause highway jams, imagine the traffic congestion that distributing these goods accounts for. Not to mention the pollution, time and fuel overheads incurred in any given city. The crux of this matter reflects the three broad aspects of the delivery process: order placement, packaging and shipping and last mile delivery.
Reducing the ‘human element’ within the process remains a long shot for many consumer-centric enterprises and delivery providers. Yet, they envision a bright but distant future wherein robots can do the ‘delivery heavy lifting.’ What holds them back is not necessarily organizational inertia and resistance to change, nor concerns about robots’ performance being on par with that of human capabilities, but rather concerns of cost. Since consumers tend to be discouraged by delivery charges, lesser investments are made to modernize the process. This is what Starship Technologies intends to change.
Given the relatively new field that it is, robots are generally yet to be affordable for large-scale implementation, but Starship is redefining the scope of robots for last mile delivery with their ‘delivery robots as a service’ model. Additionally, the company aims to redefine the ‘future of work’ through their recently launched campus initiative; the first large-scale deployment of autonomous delivery services, implementing robots to assist in work and school environments. The robots offer on-demand delivery anywhere on participating campuses via an app, offering employees the flexibility and convenience of having food and supplies delivered when and where they want, eliminating unwanted errands and waiting in line.
Starship’s approach enables companies to scale their deliveries on demand and fills the void owing to shortages of delivery personnel. The robots can navigate around objects and people causing seamlessly. In addition to building and designing robotic technology, Starship also operates their network of robots. “We take complete care of charging and maintaining the robots, including accommodation during off times.
We are already at the level where our cost of operating robots is no more expensive than the human couriers
Any business or campus vendor requiring our delivery service only needs to tell us the time and location for the robot and where they need to transport the goods. All this essentially works within a minute’s notice,” says Ahti Heinla, co-founder and CTO at Starship. “Our robots have been built focusing on cost from day one, and we are already at the level where our operating costs are no more expensive than human couriers. So, we have really addressed this problem.”
With Starship, the dispatcher and the recipient have full visibility on the status of the robot enroute to delivery. The robot’s entire journey can be monitored on a smart-phone. There are also provisions wherein human operators can guide the robot, should any hurdles arise. Starship provides API level integration of their robotic services to the existing dispatch systems that the clients may have in place. As such, users can generate live statistics on their deliveries without having to compile information manually. From a security standpoint, the robot’s cargo bay can only be opened by the recipient.
Starship’s robots have been in action for over a year in select US and European cities. Since the company’s inception in 2014, its robots have successfully gone through demos, prototyping, pilot programs, and human-aided trials to be entirely autonomous by leveraging the power of AI and machine learning. Starship’s delivery robots have been tested in more than 100 cities and have travelled 100,000 miles, encountering over 12 million people. With the addition of Campus, Starship plans to partner with 20 campuses and deploy thousands of additional robots globally this year. Looking further ahead, the company will continue its ramp up of services across the globe.