It doesn't look that far removed from R2D2 in "Star Wars" -- a small, autonomous robot that wheels down a sidewalk at about 4 mph. The Starship robot has been developed by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis to be the cost-efficient grocery delivery service of the future.
Set to be piloted in several countries including the U.S. and the U.K. in 2016, the robots are meant "to fundamentally improve local delivery of goods and groceries, making it almost free," according to a Starship press release.
The company expects to launch fleets of the small robots that can deliver up to 20 pounds of groceries for $1.50 in under a half-hour. Customers select a delivery time that's convenient for them, and they are able to track the robot's progress through a mobile app. Once the Starship robot shows up, the app user is the only person who can unlock the machine's cargo and get the groceries.
The robot uses navigation software with obstacle avoidance, which allows it to drive autonomously without causing havoc on the sidewalk, but a human operator can intervene remotely to guarantee a safe delivery.
"Our vision revolves around three zeroes -- zero cost, zero waiting time, and zero environmental impact," Ahti Heinla, Starship Technologies CEO, said in the release. "We want to do to local deliveries what Skype did to telecommunications."
Heinla added that the robots "are not drones" -- instead of conspicuously flying through the air, they are earthbound, designed to blend in safely with pedestrians. They are also environmentally friendly by being carbon emission-free.
The main goal of the robot is to simplify the delivery process. Retailers ship the grocery items to a central hub where the robot fleet takes over, completing the delivery to the customer, avoiding expensive door-to-door travel costs.
"With ecommerce continuing to grow, consumers expect to have more convenient options for delivery -- but at a cost that suits them," Heinla said. "The last few miles often amounts to the majority of that total delivery cost. Our robots are purposefully 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."