Skype co-founders unveil robotic last-mile delivery concept

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Former Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis have launched a new company called Starship Technologies, which aims to use a fleet of autonomous robots for the last-mile delivery of local goods, groceries and parcels.

The company plans to create fleets of small, ground-based delivery robots, which are then used by parcel delivery firms and grocery stores to deliver local packages to customers. Integrated navigation and obstacle avoidance software enable the robots to drive autonomously along sidewalks, although human operators can also intervene at any point to increase safety. The robots are capable of carrying the equivalent of two grocery bags at speeds of up to 4mph, and are built using off-the-shelf components, making them cheap to produce and implement.

When arranging a delivery, customers will be able to choose from a selection of short and precise delivery slots, and will even be able to track the robot’s location in real time through a mobile app. The system will also ensure that only the app holder is able to unlock the cargo on arrival.

“Our vision revolves around three zeroes – zero cost, zero waiting time and zero environmental impact,” said Heinla. “We want to do to local deliveries what Skype did to telecommunications.

“With e-commerce continuing to grow, consumers expect to have more convenient options for delivery – but at a cost that suits them. The last few miles often amounts to the majority of the total delivery cost. Our robots are purposely designed using the technologies made affordable by mobile phones and tablets – it’s fit for purpose, and allows for the cost savings to be passed on to the customer.

“They travel at the slow speed of 4mph – a brisk walking pace. They don’t fly – these are not drones. They travel on sidewalks, blending safely in with pedestrian traffic,” concluded Heinla.

Starship Technologies is currently testing and demonstrating prototypes and plans to launch the first pilot services in cooperation with its service partners in the USA, the UK and other countries in 2016.

November 4, 2015

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Helen has worked for UKi Media & Events for nearly a decade. She joined the company as assistant editor on Passenger Terminal World and since progressed to become editor of five publications, covering everything from aviation, logistics and e-commerce to meteorology. She has a love for travel and property and has redeveloped three houses in three years. When she’s not editing magazines, she’s running around after her two boys and their partner in crime, Pete the pug.

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