Don’t be surprised if you’re in Washington, D.C., and see some robots whirring along the sidewalks.
Starship Technologies — billed as the world’s first 24/7 on-demand Delivery Robot — is testing delivery robots in a pilot program with Postmates to deliver takeout food from restaurants, groceries and packages — virtually anything you can order online.
According to a report by the local NBC affiliate, “The robots are equipped with sensors designed to prevent them from running into things. They each have a red flag and flashing lights. The only sound they make is the mechanical whirring of their wheels.”
“This is the world’s first delivery robot,” Starship Technologies spokesman Henry Harris-Borland said of the tiny delivery bots, which you can watch in action above and below.
Customers in D.C. “may receive a text message telling them a robot will deliver their meal. The user will be able to track the route of the robot. Then, a second text message will include a link to click to unlock the top of the robot to take the food.”
— Starship (@StarshipRobots) March 9, 2017
As it settles in the Washington, D.C. market, nearby Virginia just made robotics history as the first US state to pass legislation allowing delivery robots to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks across the state. The new law goes into effect on July 1 and was signed into law by the governor last Friday.
— Starship (@StarshipRobots) March 2, 2017
The two Virginia lawmakers who sponsored the bill, Ron Villanueva and Bill DeSteph, teamed up with Starship to draft the legislation.
D.C. customers must first sign up for Postdates to be notified if robot service becomes available in their area. The ground-based robot delivery tech is also being tested with DoorDash in Redwood City, CA.
Companies like Marble and Dispatch are also working to bring robots for autonomous delivery to city sidewalks, while Domino’s New Zealand is also testing its DRU delivery robot.
Londoners may also spy the little delivery agents out and about—primarily because the company is headquartered there, while its engineering operations are based in Estonia.
— Starship (@StarshipRobots) March 3, 2017
The electric-powered rovers drive on sidewalks at a pedestrian speed (max 6 km/h), can be remote-controlled if autonomous operation fails, and will only be used for relatively short-range local delivery.
The robots are equipped with a sensor suite that includes cameras, GPS and IMU, possibly also other sensors but notably no LIDAR. The robot will have microphones, and speakers, so they can communicate with humans they meet.
Follow its Instagram feed to see where they pop up next.