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Food Delivery by Autonomous Robots Now a Thing in the Bay Area

First Redwood City, then the world

A Starship Technologies robot delivers a parcel
Starship Technologies

The robots are coming, and they’re bringing your dinner. It’s been on the radar of food delivery companies for a while, as well as other on-demand companies like Amazon which hopes to eventually deliver goods by drone.

Now Starship Technologies, a robotics company founded by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, has teamed up with actual human food purveyors DoorDash and Postmates to deliver directly to your door. (No word on whether Postmates’ logo will change from a person on a bicycle to a small robot.) The robots will deliver their goods, from pizza to pad Thai, in 15-30 minutes within a radius of two to three miles. Humans monitor the robots and can take control if necessary, though the robots are outfitted with LED lights, cameras, and sensors to integrate with pedestrians and traffic.

According to a statement from DoorDash co-founder and chief product officer Stanley Tang, the idea is to bypass methods that “ignore the law” (cough cough Uber) and “chase ideas” like drones that don’t currently have the infrastructure to implement. That means small, cooler-like robots on wheels will show up on the doorstep of DoorDash customers in Redwood City to start, followed by the rest of the Bay Area if the pilot program is successful; Postmates will first implement the little wheeled robots to Washington, D.C.

Ultimately the idea is not to take jobs away from current drivers— much like Zume Pizza which uses robots to complete repetitive tasks, Starship hopes to free up delivery people from smaller deliveries that pay less, saving time and money all around.

Though only a small fleet of the robots will be unleashed on Redwood City to start, the fleet could rapidly expand if all goes well with the pilot program. An influx of $17.2 million from Mercedes-Benz Vans (and perhaps an investment in the auto company’s own autonomous hopes and dreams?) and other investors, helped get the technology to U.S. markets much quicker.

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