Local delivery is one of the largest undisrupted industries left, worth $3 trillion. Starship Technologies, a company founded by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, two of Skype’s co-founders, have developed a delivery robot that lives in a hub approximately one mile from your home. Using a smartphone app, you can select a suitable time for delivery, reschedule delivery, and eventually open the robot to retrieve your package.
Speaking at Slush 2015, Janus Friis of Starship Technologies begins: “Companies like UPS, DHL and Fedex deliver around 20 million parcels a year in Europe and the US alone, and on top of that we do 130 billion personal shopping trip ourselves.”
“We intent to disrupt this by introducing something which drives itself, which is almost completely autonomous, cute and friendly,” he adds.
Looking at the future of delivery, people talk about drones, self driving cars, vans and trucks. What Starship Technologies are offering is a completely different approach, something that can actually be driven on pavements, as opposed to trying to navigate busy streets.
“Founding Skype we wanted to disrupt a really large industry and make people’s lives better on a really large scale; but this is even bigger,” says Ahti Heinla
“You can do a lot of things with robotics: you can solve small problems with robotics, but you can also solve big problems, and we have always been drawn to big problems, and delivery is a big problem.”
Last mile delivery is the term given to the stage at the end of the delivery, from the depot to the home or business, its the last mile. 80% of deliveries actually happen within the last few miles.
Friis goes on the explain the inefficiency of the last mile, the stop-start of the van doing a linear journey. Starship Technologies provide the opportunity to send all the parcels out from the depot, directly to the customers: “The van can drive to a hub and drop off 10-15 parcels in one location, and we deal with the last mile delivery with our robots, in a timescale which is convenient for consumers, through their mobile phone.”
When quizzed deeper about the logistics of the operation, Heinla clarifies: “The robots live in a hub built into shipping containers, and they drive out from those neighbourhood hubs to make deliveries.”
A clear and focused answer, even if it still doesn't completely cover all logistical questions one might have, especially about theft, vandalism and the attention of the generally mischievous that will be attracted by the presence of such a novelty item, cruising through the average suburban street.
However, the company already operates in the cities of Tallinn, London, Boston, New York and San Fransisco, and so far to our knowledge without any major setbacks. With the advent of drone delivery projects by companies such as Amazon, Starship Technologies certainly have a challenge on their hands to get the robots off the ground - or not, as is the intention of course.