SAN FRANCISCO — Starship Technologies, which is using mobile robots to perform last-mile delivery services, recently announced the findings of a preliminary study exploring the impact of autonomous technologies on visually impaired people using guide dogs. The result? Dogs and robots seem to get along just fine.
In collaboration with the U.K. charity Guide Dogs, the study had guide dogs accompanied by their owners or trainers interact with Starship’s autonomous delivery robots in live scenarios on public sidewalks. Conducted in Milton Keynes, U.K., scenarios included dogs and robots meeting from the front and rear, overtaking one another, and heading towards each other at a road crossing.
According to Starship, all of the dogs reacted calmly, most of them stopping before the robot approached, with no adverse reactions. “Early indications are that training for guide dogs could be approached by treating the robots like any other obstacle encountered on the pavement,” the organizations said in a statement.
Starship added that its robots have interacted with more than 600,000 non-working dogs around the world with similar results.
“Technology is constantly changing our environment and the way we live, so it’s vital that Guide Dogs as an organization leads the way in shaping that environment for people with a vision impairment,” said John Welsman, policy lead, travel and mobility, at Guide Dogs. “We want all our guide dog owners and their dogs to feel confident about navigating the streets of the future, so we’re really pleased to have the opportunity to work with Starship on this initial study.”
“Working seamlessly alongside residents is a top priority for us,” said Lex Bayer, CEO of Starship Technologies. “We are continually looking at ways to enhance our services by engaging with organizations such as Guide Dogs to do just this.”
Starship said it plans to expand the project to include more extensive testing to “discern the impact robots may have on people with a spectrum of visual impairments, including guide dog users.”
With more than 5,000 guide dogs on U.K. streets, Guide Dogs conducts research with several organizations to “try and learn from and enhance the day-to-day experiences of visually impaired people,” as part of its Cities Unlocked initiative.
Starship was founded in July 2014 by two Skype co-founders, Ahit Heinla and Janus Friis, with Lex Bayer joining as CEO from Airbnb in June 2018. The company’s robots have covered more than 125,000 miles in 20 countries, and more than 100 cities around the world.
Last month, the firm launched an on-demand package delivery service in Milton Keynes, with plans to expand to residents in the San Francisco Bay Area in the future.
Delivery by mobile robot a hot market
The last-mile delivery mobile robot space is heating up, with companies such as Marble, Robby Technologies, Piaggio Fast Forward, and Boxbot, offering deliveries. to customers. Earlier this week, Nuro and Kroger announced grocery delivery service via self-driving cars to customers in Scottsdale, Ariz.
However, the space isn’t without its problems – last week, onlookers captured video and images of a KiwiBot delivery robot catching fire during a delivery on the U.C. Berkeley campus. Company officials cited human error as the root cause of the incident, saying that a defective battery was put in place of a functioning one. Kiwi has since updated its software to “rigorously monitor the state of each battery.”