The Rise of Delivery Robots

Few of us have actually encountered robots in everyday life. We may have a Roomba that does a poor job of vacuuming our apartment, but that’s about it. Robotic systems offer a number of advantages and could become indispensable.

Even if curfews are imposed during a crisis and the economy almost comes to a standstill, vital goods must be transported. People need to eat, need toilet paper, depend on medication. Every driver who sits in a truck or delivery vehicle is at risk of infecting himself or others with the virus.

Autonomous trucks and delivery vehicles, or smaller delivery robots, have so far been regarded at best as curiosities, at worst as job destroyers. In fact, in recent years the logistics industry worldwide has faced the challenge of finding sufficient drivers for the booming transport requirements. At the same time there is pressure from cities and regions to restrict traffic and thus delivery journeys.

But autonomous cars that transport people as robo-taxies also seem to be something, if not “technically impossible”, then at least a spoilsport. Others, on the other hand, see this as an attack on public transport, which is seen as the only savior in the fight against traffic collapse and the climate crisis.

With the corona virus crisis, delivery robots like Starship Technology are experiencing an unexpected boom. Having been tested for several years in Redwood City, among other places, they have also been on the road in Mountain View since March 2020. I’ve seen half a dozen of these cooler bikes on Castro Street and in the neighborhood for several days.

In Beijing, the start-up company Neolix Technologies, based there, delivered food and medicines with delivery robots. The company has just raised $29 million (€26.6 million) in venture capital and uses Baidu’s Apollo operating system for autonomous vehicles. Other companies like Starship Technologies, KiwiBot, Waymo, Udelv. ThorDrive or Navya are just a few of dozens of companies that develop delivery robots or delivery vehicles. Starship Technologies, for example, has been expanding its delivery service since March 2020 and has extended it to other cities, such as Mountain View.

Not only deliveries in public places are a challenge in a pandemic. The delivery of food and essential necessities to sick people and people in need of care in hospitals and nursing homes can reduce the risk of infection with delivery robots.

The robots begin to conquer the world. And so that they can take on more and more tasks, we should also think about how we build cities and buildings in a way that is suitable for robots.

This article was also published in German.

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