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Next time you order something online, it could be delivered to you by an autonomous robot. That’s the concept that Starship Technologies, an Estonian and London-based startup, is trying to bring to life. At the rate the group is developing the technology, it’s likely that consumers will see the pods in action way before aerial drones jump in and take over the space.

“It does not take the whole delivery chain from an Amazon warehouse to your doorstep, it only takes the last few miles. But right now the last few miles are the most difficult part for the delivery vans. They need to find parking spaces and so forth, so our robot is taking care of that,” explained Ahti Heinla, a Skype co-founder and CEO of the company. “For the large e-commerce companies it helps to reduce the costs. For the local businesses it opens up new possibilities, allowing people to order deliveries over the internet rather than coming to the store physically.”

Low-cost, Fun and Safe

To help you grasp what it’s like to use the service, imagine a safety deposit box on wheels. In Starship’s case, the containers can hold up to 40 pounds of anything, including a few bags of groceries. The group actually designed the pods for this purpose, so don’t expect a new couch to make its way to your doorstep using this method. With reliable speeds of four miles per hour, you can be sure that your order of eggs will remain intact during the whole trip. Any faster and pedestrians might trip over the bots. The startup is aiming for a 30-minute delivery window per package.

Each container is locked to discourage theft. A camera and a GPS mount could help retrieve a stolen bot should it fall into the wrong hands. Individuals expecting a delivery are provided with a digital key that opens the secure compartment. They also have the option to track it in real-time using a map. A regular trip costs less than $1, which makes the service affordable for mainstream consumers.

If all goes according to plan, the machines could be invading your neighborhood by 2017. The company will be launching trials in Greenwich, London and the U.S. early next year. Regulations are of course another obstacle that the group has to overcome, but getting approval for the land-based pods should not be difficult, compared to quadcopter services.


Making Life Easier

Starship’s fleet of self-driving bots have the potential to thrive in retirement homes, well-mapped urban settings and schools. They may not be able to replace those flashy flying UAVs, but that doesn’t mean the friendly machines should be written off completely. “It’s estimated that United Parcel Service delivers over four billion packages and documents a year, so employing autonomous drones technology to address this market is pretty disruptive,” wrote Mike Butcher from TechCrunch. “In theory, customers could even try out a product, decide not to keep it and send the drone back to base with the product at virtually no cost.”

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