In the Californian community of Redwood City, you might start to see miniature robotic vehicles rolling up the sidewalks and across streets. These robots are the newest employees for an on-demand food delivery company called DoorDash. After undergoing 20,000 miles of testing, DoorDash has officially deployed a fleet of six autonomous robots that deliver food orders from restaurants to the homes of customers. DoorDash created these bots through a partnership with Starship Technologies, a London-based company that manufactures autonomous delivery robots.
The DoorDash robots are small, compact, and roll on six wheels. Capable of carrying up to 22 pounds of food, these bots move at speeds up to four miles per hour, which equates to the average walking speed of a pedestrian. These automated mini-vehicles use cameras, GPS, and computer vision to navigate through foot traffic and surmount obstacles along their routes. Their weight and speed limitations ultimately make these bots better-suited for making smaller deliveries like sandwiches, burgers, and burritos, along with traveling at shorter distances within a radius of 2-4 miles.
After getting a nine-month pilot program approved last fall by Redwood City, DoorDash will collect data that monitors the timeliness of deliveries, along with interactions between customers and the bots. When one of the DoorDash robots arrive at a restaurant, an employee must greet the vehicle outside and put the food order inside the robot’s compartment, after which the overhead latch locks. The customer can track the location and receive estimated arrival times on their delivery. Upon reaching the customer’s home, a link is sent electronically to the consumer to unlock the robot’s compartment containing their order.
Despite passing and interacting with millions of people during its 20,000-mile trial runs, nobody tried stealing or vandalizing the DoorDash robots. Granted these autonomous vehicles can be tracked wherever they wind up, DoorDash indicated that alarms could be installed on newer models that get triggered if someone tries picking up the machine. Despite their innovative purpose, there are concerns these bots are another example of how automated machinery is taking jobs away from humans, despite DoorDash insisting that these robots will act more as complementary accessories to human deliverers.
“Since Starship’s robots have a smaller carrying capacity and drive on sidewalks, they are better suited for carrying a small meal down the street, rather than a few pizzas,” says Stanley Tang, one of DoorDash’s cofounders and chief product officer. “We expect to use robots to deliver these smaller, short-distance orders that dashers often avoid, thereby freeing up dashers to fulfill the bigger and more complex deliveries that often result in more money for them.”
Moving forward, DoorDash is looking to have their bots capable of delivering food orders to more public locations like parking lots, parks, and other non-private establishments. In addition to their deployments in Redwood City, the company is also looking to expand their robotic delivery operations out east in locations like Washington DC and locations in Virginia.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)