It may sound like something out of a futuristic science fiction film, but did you know robots are now being employed to deliver shopping? The new generation of shopping delivery robots has been launched as a pilot scheme in Milton Keynes, as technology gets increasingly involved in our everyday life.
The amazing home delivery robots are being tried out by the Co-op, in an area which contains many roundabouts, to get an accurate picture of how successfully they can navigate complicated routes with hazards.
Milton Keynes is one of the first towns in Britain to trial the home delivery bots, created by Starship Technologies. They made their debut with the Co-op's pilot scheme at the end of 2018. They can avoid obstacles, cars and people, while carrying a cargo trunk filled with groceries from the store to customers' homes.
Shoppers book the service through a mobile phone app, on which they can choose the option of having their groceries delivered by robot to the address of their choice.
Tesco also launched a pilot home delivery service using robots in Milton Keynes, a few weeks after the Co-op scheme. The bots can deliver anywhere within a two-mile radius of the base. Tesco had tested a one-off robot delivery service in London in 2017, before deciding to forge ahead with the Milton Keynes' pilot in January 2019.
Starship Technologies' robots are an amazing piece of technology. Each able to carry up to 10kg of shopping, they can navigate the streets on their own, arriving at their destination in an average of around 15 minutes. At a maximum speed of 4mph, they travel on the pavement.
Trials of robot delivery vehicles have also taken place in the United States, bypassing the need for vans, cars, bikes, or other delivery vehicles. The autonomous package delivery service is said to be a more practical solution than the drones being trialled by Amazon.
The robots are 22 inches high and 28 inches long. They contain sensors which will stop them immediately, rather than letting them run into pedestrians, dogs or cats. Each robot operates through GPS tracking and one individual person can follow and control several bots at once from a control centre.
Starship formally launched its robot delivery service at the Tesco store in the Milton Keynes' Kingston Centre, following the Co-op's debut just before Christmas in 2018.
Tesco customers can order their groceries via Starship’s smartphone app. The goods cost their normal shelf price and the delivery charge is only £1. As they would with standard van deliveries, customers can choose a convenient delivery time. Orders are picked in the store by Starship employees, who place the goods in the robots to send them on their journey.
Starship is expected to make an announcement on expanding its Milton Keynes' operation in the near future. The London-based company, which has an engineering base in Estonia, is aiming to expand its delivery robot scheme throughout Europe and across the United States.
The same buggies have also been trialled in parts of London by the takeaway food delivery service Just Eat and the parcel delivery service Hermes.
Starship Technologies was launched by Skype's Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla in 2014. The bots have been used for delivering groceries and pizza across the world and have travelled more than 100,000 miles in tests, in around 100 cities, before being released for their pilot schemes in the UK.
While some modern robots have been designed to resemble people, Starship's robots are simply a cargo box with a compartment for the groceries. They are purely functional, rather than looking like a person! Each bot has six wheels. The compartment holding the groceries is secured.
Pros and cons
The robots offer a convenient service for customers, who can do everything they need via an automated app, should they prefer to do so, including having their shopping delivered 24/7, at a time convenient to them.
In terms of jobs, companies say that utilising robots will free up staff from doing monotonous and repetitive tasks, enabling them to do other more interesting duties, but there are fears that rather than the staff being given different jobs, they will just be laid off altogether as robots take over. This would save on wages and the initial outlay for the robots would be reaped back over a period of time.
Critics of the scheme also fear the robots will be prime targets for thieves. However, each robot is connected to the internet and is fitted with a speaker and cameras. Should a thief try to attack, the human operator at the control centre can spot this right away and alert the police.
Starship Technologies says its goal is to use thousands of robots all over the world, continuing their bid throughout 2019 to provide an efficient automated service for consumers.
Regardless of whether robots are used in retail, nothing can replace the pull of an attractive shop interior to make customers' shopping experiences more pleasant.
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