Self-driving robots will soon be delivering your packages, if a new project launched by two Skype founders will prove successful.
Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla, known as two of the developers who masterminded the popular VoIP service, have created a start-up called Starship Technologies, headquartered in Tallinn, Estonia.
Their main goal is to invent self-driving robots, which will start making home deliveries in the United Kingdom and the United States as early as 2016.
The plan is to implement automated robotic delivery systems faster than Amazon, Wal-Mart and Google, which are currently battling for supremacy in their effort to send packages using drones. Inventors wish to revolutionize local deliveries just like Skype has completely changed the face of telecommunications.
In the initial stage of the shipping process, the products will be transported to a central location. That’s where they will be received by electric-powered, self-driving robots, which will be hollow inside and equipped with a lockable storage case.
The 6-wheeled autonomous vehicles will then deliver the packages to homes in a matter of time ranging between 5 and 30 minutes, based on the customer’s ideal time slot.
According to their developers, the miniature robots will have the capacity to transport 40 pounds, the “equivalent of two grocery bags”.
They will travel at 4 miles per hour, and easily move across sidewalks thanks to sensors and 9 cameras, which will allow them to determine the presence or velocity of potential obstacles, in order to avoid collisions.
The Starship robots will be waterproof, emission-free and 99% autonomous, being however under the constant supervision of an operator who will assist them in making successful deliveries.
The self-driving vehicles will also be tracked by customers through a mobile app, and will employ local area maps, so that they can effectively navigate the streets, and know their ideal route at any given moment.
Upon reaching their destination, they will complete the delivery curb-side, and only the intended recipient will be capable of unlocking the package.
Although it may seem far-fetched that terrestrial self-driving robots will one day soon zip past pedestrians and cross walkways without being deterred, representatives of the newly established company insist that the idea is actually feasible.
This was proven by conducting a social acceptance test, which involved moving across a 100 km distance, and meeting around 5,000 passers-by. Approximately 80 to 90% of the individuals whom the robots encountered displayed no reaction to them, while the rest actually showed a positive attitude.
Another problem which might be encountered while making such a delivery would be the fact that unlike drones which fly through the air the robots are much more vulnerable to the presence of petty thieves or vandals. These people might feel tempted to steal or destroy the vehicles knowing they carry precious packages.
However, inventors claim that such acts could easily be deterred, because human operators will always be monitoring the robots’ voyage, and even hold conversations with those attempting to tamper with the self-driving vehicles.
Since the devices are constantly tracked by GPS and connected to the Internet, police officers could be summoned immediately at the scene of the incident to deal with the perpetrator.
It remains to be seen if legal barriers will be easily surpassed as well, so that this technology can actually reach the streets. The U.S. and the U.K. are still working on laws regulating the use of autonomous vehicles on public roads, but company representatives are optimistic that their delivery robots won’t be facing any deterrents.
According to them, in Great Britain it’s the local councils that decide which vehicles to allow on the pavement, while other nations such as Austria have already granted permission to Starship Technologies to operate its vehicles on walkways.
For now, a pilot program for the self-driving delivery robots has been scheduled at the Royal Borough of Greenwich in UK and at an undisclosed North American location starting from 2016.
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