Giving machine vision to grocery deliver robots
Starship Technologies' delivery robots can cross roads and navigate pavements (JulieStar/Shutterstock.com)
Delivery robots have become a familiar sight in towns and cities across Europe, making more than four million deliveries since 2018.
In 2022, Robot maker Starship Technologies partnered with local councils and shops in the UK to bring the technology to cities such as Cambridge, Leeds and Manchester.
The robots operate at Level 4 autonomy, which means they are not controlled remotely and require only minimal human interaction during each journey. The machines operate at more than 99% autonomy, while some robots are now making multiple deliveries in a row, 100% autonomously. Human remote assistants are available on standby, in case they are called upon for support.
Each robot is GPS-tracked to the nearest inch and is equipped with 12 cameras, time-of-flight capabilities, ultrasonic sensors, radar, computer vision, and other technology. They travel at around 4mph – similar to a fast pedestrian walking speed – and are able to navigate around objects and people they may come across.
The technology allows the robot to detect vehicles, pedestrians and other objects around them to cross roads and navigate pavements. Crossing points are mapped along with pavement routes before operating in an area, meaning robots will only cross roads at agreed crossing points. They can understand if and how fast objects are moving and will either move manoeuvre around or safely come to a stop until the route has cleared.
The robots can carry up to three bags of groceries and the lid is locked throughout the journey. The device is only able to be unlocked by the customer at the delivery destination, who can track the robot on their phone using the same app from which the groceries were ordered. As well as the robots being relatively heavy to pick up or move, if someone tries to lift, tip or tamper with the robot, a loud alarm will sound, acting as a deterrent.