We are well into 2017, which means we are well into the future (marked undoubtedly by the fact that we have passed the date that Marty McFly travels to in Back to the Future). Yet, looking around, things feel more or less the same as they always have. Sure there are people walking into things because they have their noses buried in a handheld computer-like device, but there are no flying cars. There are seedless watermelons but no cure for cancer. We are still, without debate, a society in progress. But, like it tends to do, the future is still creeping up on us. In DC specifically, lately, this means one thing and one thing only: food-delivery robots!!!
Pause for dramatic effect.
Yes, you read that right. Robots. Not ones intended to fight off our enemies or perform terribly intricate surgeries – robots created for the sole purpose of bringing us food. Robots that exist so we don’t have to leave the couch. Robots that help us avoid wearing pants. Heck yeah, future. Now we’re onto something!
Starship Technologies is a startup founded by two Skype co-founders, Ahti Heina and Janus Friis. Though the startup is based in Estonia, the robots are hitting the ground running for the first time in Washington D.C. and Redwood City, California. In DC, this means a partnership with Postmates.
So what do these food-carrying, button-clad robots look like? They get around on six wheels – and you might not notice them considering they are just under two feet tall, a mere 40 pounds without any Indian carryout weighing them down, and can hustle at speeds up to four miles per hour. The bots have a bright orange flag, acting as an exclamation of “I’m here!” which they can flaunt loud and proud as they go on their voyages to deliver the goods. They are equipped with nine cameras and sensors that help them to detect traffic, pedestrians, and even recognize crosswalk signals (they can’t jaywalk…yet).
Getting down to logistics, these food troopers are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, making them stealthy and relatively good to the environment. While the idea is that someday these guys will roam the street without supervision, for now, the company is keeping a watchful eye. Currently when an order needs to be fulfilled they make their way to a restaurant with a “handler” close behind, get loaded up, and then make deliveries within about a two-mile radius.
If you’re worried about some stranger recognizing the robots as food carriers and snagging your late-night snacks, then you can breathe easy. Though the company is still fine-tuning the details, right now, the system is set up so that those who order get a text whenever the robot has arrived and can click a link in that text to unlock the storage center of the robot where the food is waiting. Phew.
Starship shows promise at relieving some of the other futuristic delivery methods (using drones), as it lowers the risk of collision and also eliminates dropped orders as a possibility. The innovative approach to getting food from point A to point B has enabled the company to raise $17.2 million in seed funding. The company insists that its goal is not to replace delivery workers, but simply to act as another means for customers to get the food they want (and for restaurants to be able to meet demands). In fact, part of their vision stems from taking the orders that tip-conscious delivery drivers don’t want. A mere $7 burrito order? That’s a job for a bot. The senior of VP at Postmates, Holger Luedorf, spoke to TechCrunchTechCrunch regarding their vision, saying:
“We don’t have a grand vision that robots would be the ultimate delivery mechanism or something. It’s far too early to say. We do want to gather a lot of data.”
So there you have it. The future, delivered in a Chinese to-go box, is coming…on top of a robot of course. Order up!