Starship Technologies starts testing program for autonomous delivery vehicles


Starting this month, millions of people will have a chance to encounter autonomous delivery robots on the pavements of the UK, Germany, and Switzerland, as part of a program to test their suitability for local deliveries.

The scheme has been launched by Starship Technologies and several major industry partners, with a similar program due to be announced for the USA shortly. The largest European food delivery company Just Eat, leading German parcel delivery company Hermes, German retailer Metro Group, and innovative London food delivery startup Pronto, will test the autonomous delivery vehicles developed by Starship, a company launched in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis.

As part of the program, dozens of robots will be deployed in five cities to run first test deliveries and introduce the innovative devices to the general public. Starship’s aim is to fundamentally reshape how goods are shipped and delivered, and make local delivery almost free.

The autonomous vehicles developed by Starship Technologies, a European company with R&D headquarters in Estonia and business headquarters in London, are designed to deliver packages, groceries and food locally to consumers in 15-30 minutes within a 2-3 mile radius (3-5km). The robots drive autonomously but are monitored by humans who can take over control at any time. Introduced to European and American cities since the end of last year, the vehicles have already driven close to 5,000 miles (8,000km) and met over 400,000 people without a single accident.

The vehicles are electric and have four motors that drive six wheels, with power coming from lithium batteries that last for about three hours. They travel at a ‘brisk walking speed’ of 4mph (6km/h) on average, but can travel at up to 10mph (16km/h). They are controlled by an Nvidia Tegra K1 processor and GPS, and make use of a number of conventional cameras, a 360-degree camera, and infrared and ultrasonic sensors to navigate autonomously. The secure goods compartment is accessed via a unique PIN number sent to the customer’s smartphone. The test programs will initially run in the cities of London, Bern, Düsseldorf and another German city, before moving to several other European and US cities.

“By launching partnerships with major companies, we will enter the next phase in our development, said Ahti Heinla, co-founder and CEO of Starship Technologies. “While we have been testing the robots in 12 countries in the last nine months, we will now develop know-how on running real robotic delivery services”

Allan Martinson, Starship’s chief operating officer, commented, “We’re sure to come up against challenges on our journey, but our aim will never change – to redefine convenience and customer service for the consumer, while making the last-mile industry for businesses cost effective, efficient and profitable.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).