It was standing in the Glaziers Lounge at Selhurst Park after a dismal defeat by Crystal Palace to arch rivals Brighton, that I introduced my friends to the notion of robots making takeaway food deliveries.
“What in SE25, are you joking mate?!” Was the perhaps unsurprising reply.
As far-fetched as delivery robots may seem on the suburban pavements of South East London, today’s tech giants are investing vast sums into manufacturing and trialling proof of concepts.
The premise is simple – there are many short journeys made by food delivery and pharmaceutical companies, that could be made by autonomous road-ready bots. The hope is these delivery robots will blend seemingly unnoticed into the suburban landscape and therefore into our everyday lives.
Far-fetched? Well the pioneer behind this technology is Janus Friis, one of the co-founders of Skype, and the CEO of Starship Technologies. In early 2018, Janus and his co-founder, Ahti Heinla, oversaw the deployment of delivery trials for Starship Technologies six-wheeled robots in 15 major cities across the world, including here in London.
The first delivery bots were trialled in Southwark in January 2018, as the company partnered with Just Eat to see how the public would take to seeing six-wheeled robots - no taller than an average sized domestic dog - deliver takeaway food.
The question was - were people on London’s busy streets prepared to share their space with a robot, roughly the size of a suitcase? And what challenges would the robot face? The FT tested the robustness of the technology, trying to block the robot’s pathway and even break into one. The robot survived the challenge unscathed and delivered the pizza in the allocated time it was set.
Futhermore, in October 2018 hundreds of Starship Technologies’ robots were let loose on the streets of Milton Keynes – in the first full-scale use of the technology. Residents were able to have parcels sent to a robot depot, which notified them upon arrival and then delivered the items to their door. They paid a monthly subscription of £7.99 for an unlimited number of deliveries.
The tech giants are evidently not going to be left standing still. In January 2019, Amazon announced trials for its six wheeled pavement delivery vehicle – The Amazon Scout. Six Amazon Scouts are now being trialled in Snohomish County – a northern Seattle suburb. And FedEx announced in February 2019 it is trialling a six wheeled delivery robot named the SameDay Bot in Memphis Tennessee, this summer with plans to expand to more cities.
Questions remain about their adaptability and what measures local UK councils will have to take to regulate them. However, in the US a handful of states, including Arizona, Virginia, Wisconsin and Idaho, have already passed laws governing the deployment of autonomous delivery vehicles.
So delivery robots on the streets of South East London could be with us soon and should be, unlike Brighton and Hove Albion FC, a welcome - if slightly quirky - sight.
The Glaziers Lounge is also home to Crystal Palace FC’s homeless shelter, a fantastic project by the club, more information here.
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“We are at the point where we are ready to start deploying our network of robots at scale,” Starship co-founder Janus Friis