Let the robots take the strain

Posted 27th August 2020

Milton Keynes prides itself on being a ‘can do’ place, so when Starship Technologies decided to launch its new food delivery robots here, it was the perfect match; pairing up a forward thinking, smart new idea with a town every bit as progressive.

Starship Technologies launched six years ago and carried out extensive testing in more than 100 cities around the world before making its first commercial delivery in Milton Keynes.

Operational here for two years now, the sight of the robots zipping along our streets and red ways on their ‘food errands’ never fails to raise a smile.

“The Milton Keynes community openly welcomed our robots back in 2018 and continues to embrace them two years after the commercial service was launched,” says Henry Harris-Burland, VP of marketing with the brand.

Today, the service is also operational across the US, Estonia, Denmark and Germany; they’ve come a long way in those six years.

“As pioneers of this technology, we look back with pride on the journey undertaken to introduce the world’s first autonomous robot delivery service. Through initial trials five years ago, we found that people quickly became accustomed to the robots and could immediately see the benefits they provided,” Henry says.

And they’ve quickly embraced the little flag-brandishing delivery bods; To date the robots have completed over 100,000 autonomous deliveries, travelled in excess of 500,000 miles and completed more than 5,000,000 road crossings around the world.

In Milton Keynes, a fleet of more than 100 bots carry groceries and takeaway meals around town; catering for shift workers, busy families and those who just want to do without the bother of venturing out to pick up those forgotten essentials.

And even those who didn’t fall for the bot charm initially have been forced to hold their hands up and accept their validity during the pandemic; Starship’s fleet have dropped food essentials to NHS staff for free and to those self-isolating – they have been a lifeline to those most in need.

“Starship’s delivery service has been providing flexibility and convenience to consumers for years, but at this moment in time we appreciate that our robots can play a particularly valuable role in the welfare of our customers and the community at large,” Henry said.

“As people are spending more time at home at the moment, including the elderly and more vulnerable, they can get their food and groceries delivered straight to their door.

“When we started Starship in 2014, we wanted to make sure our robots were really providing a service that people needed. We’re honoured and humbled that our robots are helping thousands of people around the world right now in these difficult times.”

Customer demand has seen deliveries more than double in recent months and Starship Technologies have met the demand head-on – they have now expanded into 26 new neighbourhoods to meet the increased demand in Milton Keynes.

“We have partnered with multiple independent shops and hot food vendors, as well as a further four Co-op stores across the town,” Henry explained, “Co-op has also extended store hours to 10pm from 8pm, meaning the robots are now offering a contactless way of delivering groceries and hot food takeaways for 14 hours a day. Starship has also added a further 20,000 products into its offering with Tesco in Milton Keynes. We’ve been opening up new areas on a weekly basis.”

The brand is also proud to be doing its bit for the planet: “Driving to a shop to pick up a few grocery items is an incredibly inefficient use of time and fuel and emits a significant amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere,” Henry said, “Alternatively, for just a small fee, consumers can regain the flexibility and freedom that gives them back spare time to do the things they love instead.

“Opting to use electric, autonomous delivery robots will help to offset the harmful effects of the emissions associated with traditional delivery methods. We don’t think it makes sense to have a car deliver a pizza or two bags of shopping.”

The flag-bearing little robots are resilient, and robust. Each delivery vehicle has 10 fitted cameras for monitoring, sirens in case of tampering, and tracking sensors to the nearest inch.

The robots are now a familiar sight as they shuttle around the town, and residents are rather fond of the little guys.

“We have received many notes thanking us for what the robots are doing and lots of customers have told the restaurants and grocers how much they enjoy interacting with and getting deliveries from them. Our team worked on hundreds of robot designs, involving an enormous amount of research. We’re very happy to hear from the community when they call our robots cute.”

Looking to the future, where do you see the role of the robots developing; how do you see shopper habits changing, and how do Starship fit in?

It’s fair to say that Henry thinks the future looks ‘wheelie’ bright. 

“At Starship we’ve seen a general trend over the last few years, with people using our service to free up more time to do the things they love and spend less time running errands,” he said.

“In this sense we foresee robot delivery becoming even more important when this is all over in light of these evolving consumer behaviours, such as working from home. It’s for these reasons that many new consumers have started using Starship’s delivery service and are now experiencing the time-saving benefits and convenience it can provide.

“We’re very optimistic about the future of robot deliveries and how they can help improve people’s daily lives. We’re looking forward to offering the service to many more millions of people around the world soon.”

Find out more by tapping to www.starship.xyz