Starship Technologies Inc. this week launched an on-demand package delivery service for consumers to receive items delivered by its mobile autonomous robots straight to customers’ doorsteps.
Already available in Milton Keynes near London, the company said the service would soon be available to residents in the Bay Area in California. Starship has previously tested its last-mile delivery robots in communities that include Mountain View, Redwood City, Palo Alto, and Walnut Creek, but it has not yet announced exactly where the service would be located.
How the package delivery service works
Customers interested in the service would sign up for a monthly subscription (about $10 per month, with the first month free) and download the Starship app (for iOS or Android). Once signed up, customers receive a “personal address” and code that matches the location of a Starship-managed local distribution facility. Instead of putting in their home address for any online delivery, customers would use this new personal address.
Once a package arrives at the local distribution center, Starship sends an alert to the customer, who can then choose when they would like the mobile robot to deliver to their home, office, or other location within the delivery zone.
Henry Harris-Burland, vice president of marketing for Starship, said the distribution center has a package delivery radius of about two miles, with the goal of robots delivering items within one hour. Deliveries can be made between 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week, he said Within Milton Keynes, for example, the service could deliver parcels to thousands of customers.
Each facility would house about 15 to 20 mobile robots, and Harris-Burland said the company would evaluate whether demand would require adding more robots, or placing another distribution center in another part of the community.
At the moment, there’s no limit to the size or number of packages that customers can order for the robot package delivery. For larger packages that don’t fit into the mobile robot’s secure container, the company will hand-deliver them to customers.
“Because this is a brand new service, what we’re doing at the beginning is saying that we’ll deliver anything so you don’t have to worry about those size limitations,” Harris-Burland said. “But we do say that we draw the line at fridges and wardrobes.”
He added that Starship will inform customers over time, through education via the app, about the package delivery service’s size limitations.
The Starship on-demand service addresses a few problems within the last-mile package delivery space, which includes package theft, waiting for package delivery trucks to arrive, having to drive to a locker or separate delivery center, or missed deliveries when signatures are required.
For example, a 2016 study co-sponsored by August Home Inc. (maker of a smart doorbell) and Parks Associates said consumers spend an average of $200 to replace packages that are stolen. A separate study in 2017 by the Shorr Packaging Corp. found that 41% of respondents have avoided purchasing certain items online because of package theft fears.
“The hassle of needing to rearrange your life for a delivery will become a thing of the past,” said Lex Bayer, CEO of Starship. “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. Consumers are in control – they choose when an order comes to their door, and there’s no need to use a locker service to collect deliveries. We provide the locker and the delivery, saving time and making consumers’ lives easier.”
Founded in 2014, Starship has tested its mobile robot package delivery system in more than 100 communities and 20 countries around the world.
The robots move at “pedestrian speed” and weigh no more than 50 pounds unloaded. They can navigate around objects and people, with the entire route of the delivery able to be monitored on a smartphone. For security, the cargo bay is locked, and can only be opened by the customer.
Harris-Burland said the company learned a multitude of lessons during its tests with the worldwide communities, corporate campuses, and educational institutions. The biggest one was around successful human-robot interaction.
“We were truly amazed at how people and the robots have interacted around the world and the engagement we got,” Harris-Burland said. “We’re so happy to see this reaction because we didn’t know what their reaction would be.”
For example, in some areas, the robots became so much a part of the community and infrastructure that residents would set up Facebook groups discussing them. People expressed concern if they saw a package delivery robot that was not moving and would offer to help, he added.
Working with city officials, regulations
As the company plans to expand into new areas, Harris-Burland said they are working with community leaders to make sure the robots don’t disrupt an existing infrastructure or cause traffic problems. He said several states in the U.S., and other countries worldwide have laws that allow for mobile robot sidewalk delivery.
In December 2017, the city of San Francisco, where Starship is headquartered, banned mobile robot deliveries in parts of the city, after other last-mile robot delivery companies were testing there. Harris-Burland said the company was testing its package delivery robots in areas beyond San Francisco.
“We always ask for permission to participate in a community,” he said.