Robot deliveries just got a bit more real… in Milton Keynes

Seeing courier robots on the street could soon become the norm as Starship Technologies launches its fleet in a UK town.
1 November 2018

You might start seeing more of these on the street (Starship Technologies)

Hundreds of robotic delivery vehicles have hit the streets of Milton Keynes, in one of the first large-scale, real-world rollouts of the futuristic technology.

The development comes courtesy of the suitably sci-fi sounding Starship Technologies, a specialist in small, self-driving robotic delivery vehicles founded in 2014 by two Skype co-founders, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis.

Using an app, residents of the UK ‘new town’, which is fast gaining a reputation as a tech and innovation hub, to will be able to get parcels delivered to a robot depot, with the final leg to their door taken care of by a robot.

There is a cost; the service sets users back GBP7.99 (US$10.3) a month for unlimited deliveries. That provides app access, where users can punch in their delivery address of choice for delivery-on-demand and, ultimately, put to bed fears of missed or stolen packages. Starship claims 42 percent of US city-dwellers have been victim to package theft.

In order to get from A to B, the UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles) are packed with a sensor suite, which includes ten cameras, GPS and inertial measurement units. They are also equipped with microphones and speakers so they can communicate with their customers.

As part of the roll-out, and presumably, to help serve as a proving ground for enterprise deployment, Starship has teamed up with the local supermarket chain Co-op, so users of the service can also get their groceries delivered.

“We’re excited that thanks to our technology, local communities across the globe will never miss a home delivery again,” said Lex Bayer, Starship’s recently-appointed Chief Executive Officer and Airbnb co-founder.

“Today, more than ever, people lead busy and diverse lives. The hassle of needing to re-arrange your life for a delivery will become a thing of the past. No more having to switch your working from home day, reschedule meetings, visit a locker, drive to a post office or contact a courier all because of a missed delivery.”

While this is all relatively new ground for the UK, it’s not the first time Starship’s bots have hit the blacktop. Since 2016, its UGVs have been used in the Estonian city of Tallinn by online food delivery group Wolt, while last year saw Dominos enter a partnership for personal deliveries.

The company is also set on rolling its robots out for businesses’ internal use. One of its core focuses here is making serving inter-campus deliveries in the corporate and academic world, transporting goods such as food, drinks, stationery and tools across large business environments, such as colleges.

Starship is far from alone when it comes to automated last-mile deliveries, though. A report by Nanalyze estimates there “half a dozen” competitor startups currently, while McKinsey & Company estimates that by 2025, 80 percent of deliveries could be made by autonomous vehicles. (Let’s add ‘Robot Wrangler’ to that list of 21 new jobs created by automation.)

Starship’s launch in Milton Keynes follows a US$25 million seed fund round this year from investors including Matrix Partners and Morpheus Ventures. The company aims to launch its fleet in San Francisco by the end of this year, which it claims have covered 125,000 miles worldwide.