Starship Technologies and Ground Delivery Drones
In a previous article, we discussed the use of flying drones for delivery and highlighted a company called Matternet which has flying delivery drones that are strong enough to transport 1 kilogram over 20 kilometers on a single battery charge. These delivery drones are being used now to distribute medicine in various emerging market countries and are also being evaluated by Swiss Post. While air drone delivery is being worked on by many companies including Amazon, the use of delivery drones on the ground is being considered by at least a few startups. One Estonian startup called Starship Technologies thinks that ground delivery drones are the way forward and they’ve already built the one seen below.
Founded in 2014, Starship Technologies was launched by the co-founders of Skype, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. First launched in November 2015, the Starship ground delivery drone is designed for local delivery of goods and groceries for consumers for under $1 per shipment. These ground drones are monitored by human operators who can take control of the drones at any time and view the world through the drone’s eyes. The battery lasts for about 2 hours and the range is up to 30 minutes traveling at walking speed. The ground drone has nine cameras for security and can give audible warnings to people who decide to mess with it. It weighs 20lbs and can carry 20lbs. With 6 wheels, the drone can climb over curbs and small stairs with sensors that prevent it from crashing into people. This delivery drone costs just $2,000.
Update 08/20/2019: Starship Technologies has raised $40 million in new Series A funding to deploy their delivery robots at 100 schools within the next two years. This brings the company’s total funding to $82.2 million to date.
Now the first thing we thought of is just how long a ground drone can operate before someone decides to have a bit of fun with it by a) turning it upside down b) picking it up and placing it in a dumpster, or c) stealing it all together. Now the onboard cameras are expected to provide some security, and the pilot programs are being operated in controlled environments, but there still is a bit of uncertainty around how people will respond to ground drones. According to Starship, so far people “think they’re cute”. In March, Starship announced that their robots will be visiting towns and cities in all four nations of the UK, culminating with the launch of pilot delivery services later this year.
While the concept is far from mainstream, there is at least one other company targeting this space. San Francisco based Dispatch is a very small company with just one full-time employee in addition to the three founders which is developing their own ground drone called “Carry”.
Dispatch took in a $2 million seed funding round in April of 2016 to develop their ground delivery drone which can handle up to 100 pounds and is operated via a mobile app. Like Starship’s ground drone, Carry travels at walking speed and is heavy enough that it takes two people to pick it up which is purported to be a barrier to prevent theft.
One question that comes up is if these “ground delivery drones” should be called drones or robots? The confusion lies in the fact that the term “drone” refers to airborne robots. Technically, the Starship Technologies vehicle is a robot but the nomenclature doesn’t matter all that much. The question is, will we as a society accept these intelligent delivery machines that could disrupt human couriers, all those food delivery startups that keep sprouting up, the medication delivery startups that are debuting, and even your mailman? We’ll see how the pilot goes.
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