Delivery robots: issues and perspectives on a new market
We’ve been talking about this for a long time, so it was bound to happen. Starship Technologies and Sodexo have together announced that meal delivery via robots is already taking place on North American campuses. Pizza, burgers or Starbucks coffee – students will no longer need to leave their comfortable nests. A friendly robot will ensure delivery so they don’t have to waste time during mealtimes. Mark Kraner, Executive Director of Retail Operations for George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, is said to be “thrilled” with this new development. “This will improve life for everyone at the university, and this is something that we are constantly looking to do,” he declared. The 25 robots aren’t afraid of the rain or cold, and have a delivery time of fifteen minutes.
Delivery robots: unlimited “junk food”
These are the same robots that Starship Technologies rolled out last year at a few companies in Silicon Valley. These robots were initially developed to explore unknown places like Mars, and are now being re-purposed for delivery. But should we really be happy about their arrival at universities? If we develop this sort of device that allows people to avoid putting forth the slightest effort, will we lose our mobility? At a time when obesity is affecting the younger generation, we have to wonder.
So how do these delivery robots work?
The robots are full of sensors and via a power supply, their six wheels allow them to move about easily. Equipped with Artificial Intelligence and capable of learning their routes, these robots can actually replace delivery people. Followed in real time on the app by the person placing the order, they are reliable and trustworthy. The robots have a perimeter of 3 kilometers, travel at a walking pace and can carry up to 20 kg (according to their manufacturer). This is nothing exceptional in terms of performance, but the big advantage is their 24/7 availability. The other advantage, in addition to cost savings, is their extremely small carbon footprint.
So what’s hiding behind these delivery robots?
The very recent purchase of Dispatch (a competitor of Starship) by a web giant and member of GAFAM generated some comments. Indeed, this American startup has already tested robots on university campuses before they disappeared from radar. TechCrunch announced this month that Amazon had quietly acquired this company at the same time they were buying Whole Foods! They also announced that they had developed Scout, a delivery robot strangely similar to the one Dispatch was testing before it was purchased. So will delivery robot races soon be taking place under our windows?
We’re not there just yet. The Starship robots were not well-received during their first tests, and were even attacked. Given that robot delivery only costs around two euros, the market is enormous. Still, people must be willing to adopt them! As we can see, for a significant time, people have the power to decide their future. The technology is capable of incredible things, but we will need more convincing before we accept them as a replacement to our fellow human beings who may be imperfect, but are ultimately closer to us.