Delivering Food on Sidewalks

A fleet of knee-high robots has started showing up on sidewalks in cities around the world, delivering food from restaurants to people too sick to go out. The delivery robots are made by Starship Technologies, a company founded by two of the co-founders of Skype. Their autonomous, driverless machines use cameras, sensors and GPS to navigate sidewalks and even cross streets without obstructing traffic. They move at around 5 mph.

After ordering food from an app, restaurant owners place it into a central container, which is then sent to the customer’s front door by the robot. The customer can track the robot’s location and open the container through the app at any time, allowing for fast, convenient delivery.

The demand for delivery robots has increased as businesses struggle to find workers. Restaurant owners, in particular, have been drawn to the technology as they seek a way to deliver food during the pandemic. They can also use them for other services, such as cleaning and picking up trash.

Unlike human delivery drivers, who often need to stop for gas and groceries, the robots can drive themselves to stores to pick up items for customers. That allows them to travel longer distances, which is especially helpful in urban areas where parking spaces are scarce. But that’s not the only advantage of their speedy navigation: The robots can also avoid roadblocks and traffic jams.

Navigation isn’t always smooth delivery robot sailing, though. One robot in Milton Keynes, England, malfunctioned and drove into a canal. And even when they’re working properly, there’s the question of whether sharing sidewalks with pedestrians is the best idea. As one woman in Boston said, “It’s just kind of annoying to walk into the middle of a stream of robots.”

States have been split on how to handle sidewalk delivery robots. Some, like Georgia and New Hampshire, have laws requiring them to stay off roads altogether. Others allow them as long as they don’t exceed certain weight or speed limits. And still others, like Pennsylvania, have passed laws geared toward the specifics of Starship’s robots, which can hold up to 20 pounds of food.

Besides the logistics and e-commerce sectors, delivery robots are also being used by hotels and hospitals to transport supplies between rooms and departments. In the future, hospitals might have a fleet of the devices transporting blood samples or taking away soiled laundry from patient rooms. And in hotels, a robot named Ketty could greet guests and deliver their room service orders. It could even take their dirty dishes back to the kitchen. Just don’t expect it to clean the rooms. That would require a more permanent solution. Click here to learn more about the latest in delivery robot technology.