Amazon’s proposed package delivery drones have already raised robot delivery expectations sky-high— and they’re not even available yet. But it’s a more grounded solution that might take off instead. Starship Technologies, a venture created by Skype cofounders (and weirdly uninvolved in actual spacecraft production, so far), wants little robotic carts to deliver groceries at a fraction the cost of flying drones.
With a top speed of 4mph, the poorly named Starship moves slightly faster than walking humans. Inside, it can carry about 20 pounds, or two bags of groceries. Ideally, it will deliver them in 5 to 30 minutes, or about the same time as a walk to the grocery store itself. Its cargo will be stored inside the hollow compartment of the robot’s body. The lock on the compartment will only open with the customer’s mobile app.
Skype cofounders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis are heading the project. They claim the robots will be driven autonomously “99 percent” of the time, which likely means a human watching and able to take over in case the Starship veers into traffic or something. Starships will be launched from hubs (motherships?), which will essentially be warehouses no further than 2 miles from customers, if the 4 mph robots are to deliver within 30 minutes.
If the idea gets off the ground, it will have one advantage over Amazon and Google’s flying delivery service: the legal landscape for ground transport is likely a lot clearer than the cloudy mess that is U.S. drone law.