The Robot Postman


The Robot Postman Photo

Already with the demise of the Great Pumpkin, comes the rise of tinsel and lights.  Jiggle bells today translates to the hum of trucks delivering good tidings. While e-commerce continues to outpace brick & mortar, it also creates major financial problems with free shipping promos and last mile deliveries. Last year alone, the US Postal Service lost $5 billion and Amazon $3 Billion on free shipping.  To buck this trend, Amazon, Google and Walmart are actively experimenting with drones to ship goods.

The London-based Starship uses a secure box on wheels to deliver goods within 30 minutes. With six wheels and an integrated array of sensors, the Starship rover can make autonomous deliveries within a 3 mile radius. The box can hold about two grocery bags worth of goods, and deliveries can come from retail outlets or dedicated Starship hubs.

“The last few miles often amounts to the majority of the total delivery cost,” said Heinla, now CEO of Starship. “Our robots are purposely designed using the technologies made affordable by mobile phones and tablets – it’s fit for purpose, and allows for the cost savings to be passed on to the customer.”

Customers will be able to track the box as it moves at about the pace of a brisk walk. When the delivery arrives, they can use the same app to unlock the box. The delivery market is currently seeing a lot of disruption. While programs like UberEats and Amazon Prime Now are aiming to use existing infrastructure to facilitate faster deliveries, the ultimate goal seems to be unmanned deliveries. Just last week, Walmart asked for Federal Aviation Administration approval for testing drone deliveries, joining Amazon and Google in a bid to expand delivery options.

Starship’s delivery model may be appealing to vendors who don’t want to deal with FAA approval but still want the benefits of unmanned deliveries. Since Starship rovers are able to use sidewalks instead of the skies to get around, they avoid much of the existing regulations on autonomous vehicles. That’s not to say municipalities won’t place restrictions on their use in the future, but the sidewalk is a lot more open than the skies at the moment. People also don’t have to worry about rovers falling out of the sky and dropping on their heads.

While the system is 99% autonomous, Starship said human operators will be overseeing trips to step in if things go haywire. Starship vehicles will be no more than 40 pounds when fully loaded, so they won’t crush your toes too bad if they decide to go rogue. And a flag on top means you won’t be tripping over it very easily.

Starship is currently demonstrating prototypes and testing its devices. It plans to launch in conjunction with retailers and service providers in the U.S., U.K. and other countries in 2016.  Next year, Santa may be driving an autonomous sleigh followed by a swarm of drones and terrestrial ships.  Poor Rudolph will have to retire.



Reprinted by permission

Image credit: CC by therobbotrabi

About the author: Oliver Mitchell

Oliver Mitchell is the Founding Partner of Autonomy Ventures a New York based venture capital firm focused on seed stage investments in robotics, autonomous mobility and artificial intelligence. He has spent the last twenty years building and selling ventures, including: Holmes Protection to ADT/Tyco, Americash to American Express, and launching RobotGalaxy, a national EdTech brand. Oliver has been investing in the robotic industry for close to 10 years, with four successful exits in his angel portfolio in the past two years (including 2 IPOs). He is also a member of New York Angels and co-chairs the Frontier Tech Committee.

As father of five, Oliver launched RobotGalaxy in 2006 to fill a personal need: he wanted a wholesome activity for his son. RobotGalaxy’s patented toys were a national phenomena available at Toys’R’Us, Nordstrom Department Stores, and online that connected to a virtual world and library of mobile apps.

Before RobotGalaxy, Oliver was involved in a number of successful technology ventures and real estate developments. Oliver was part of the executive team of Softcom/IVT, an interactive video startup backed by Allen & Co., Intel Capital (NASDAQ:INTC) and Sun Microsystems. At IVT, Oliver was instrumental in expanding the market for their products with such leading broadcasters as HBO, Showtime, and Home Shopping Network.

Prior to IVT, Oliver was a founding member of AmeriCash, Inc., a network of ATMs in high traffic retail locations. AmeriCash was acquired by American Express (NYSE:AXP) within 32 months of operations. Oliver was also instrumental in the development of Holmes Protection and its sale to ADT/Tyco International (NYSE:TYC). Oliver has extensive background in merchant banking and advertising. He started his career at Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners.

Oliver holds 14 patents and has appeared on numerous television shows, including: The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Fox Business News, The Today Show, and Rachel Ray. He also serves as a mentor on the Entrepreneur Roundtable Accelerator Fund, and advises many technology companies on their growth strategies including Greensight Agronomics and Que Innovations.

Oliver is also the publisher of the well-known robotics blog Robot Rabbi and is in the midst of writing a book entitled, “An Innovator’s Field Guide: Taking Ideas From Zero to Hero.”

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