Startup trials autonomous delivery robots in Greenwich

Estonian robotics startup Starship Technologies secures permission to trial self-driving delivery robots in Greenwich, south-east London

Starship Technologies, a supplier of autonomous robotics technology, has secured permission from Greenwich Council to trial self-driving delivery robots.

The Estonia-based startup –  set up by two of Skype’s co-founders, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis – has just opened a London office in the area. It aims to revolutionise the logistics sector and cut the cost of delivering goods – by as much as 15 times per shipment – using a fleet of autonomous, lightweight robots for the last-mile, local delivery of items such as groceries.

Its six-wheeled robots generate zero carbon emissions and move around without human input for most of the time – but they are monitored by human controllers, who can take the reins if they need to.

Greenwich – which has already signed up to allow autonomous cars to be tested on its streets as part of a wider government-backed scheme – will allow the robots to use pavements like pedestrians, travelling at slow speeds.

“The trial complements the work undertaken by the Royal Borough of Greenwich on smart city innovation – work that we believe will be significant for all cities in the futures,” said Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland.

“I am delighted that The Royal Borough of Greenwich has been chosen as the first location in the UK to trial this revolutionary delivery system, and that Starship Technologies has chosen to base their UK offices in Greenwich. This technology has the potential to transform the local delivery of goods and groceries,” she added.

Getting to know the locals

As the robots do not share the streets with vehicular traffic, a key part of the trial will be to introduce them to the general public.

“Our robots are a totally new class of devices that will provide a combination of low cost and convenience with less congested streets and zero emissions,” said Starship’s Heinla.

“The robot has been in development for almost two years, and we’ve experienced unprecedented levels of interest and goodwill – so it’s great to now be taking the first step to rolling our little robot out for real.  The robot has been very well received by pedestrians in all of the interactions we’ve seen so far, so it’s very exciting to be officially introducing the robot to the British public.”

Starship said it expected to launch pilot delivery services on a wider scale in the UK later this year, and will be embarking on tests in the US from April 2016.

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Pretty cool idea, and I can see it taking off in urban areas, but I wonder what kind of security features these delivery bots are going to have t prevent tampering and theft.
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