In 2016, Starship robot delivery services started operating in the UK, along with the United States, Switzerland and Germany. Using autonomous vehicles, the service can deliver up to 13kg of groceries or other items within a three-mile radius.

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How do they work?

The vehicles work by using ultrasonic sensors to detect obstacles, GPS to record location, and cameras monitored by human operators who can take over the controls if needed – to help the delivery vehicle cross a road, for example.

While the vehicles have been used in 12 countries and driven more than 100,000 miles, they have only been tested in South London so far in the UK, where they were used to deliver takeaway orders for Just Eat.

Next steps

Now, the company – which was founded in 2014 by the creators of Skype – is looking to expand with plans to introduce 1,000 delivery robots into up to 20 university campuses by 2019 and an agreement with the Co-op to delivery groceries in Milton Keynes.

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Benefits and downsides

One of the main benefits of the delivery vehicles is that they reduce the cost of delivery for the last mile significantly (from $3 to $1 or less in the US). Another advantage is that they bring efficiencies to companies or organisations with large sites. In Germany, for example, Mercedes uses them to deliver parcels internally.

However, with a top speed of 10 miles per hour and a radius of no more than three miles, experts say that their use is likely to be limited to specific industries or areas for now, such as universities.

Their size is also an issue. While the creators say that if it fits in a vehicle, it can be delivered, not everything will fit. Items larger or heavier than the machine’s capacity will still need to be delivered by more traditional means, such as, the man and van Slough moving service.

There’s also the question of how the public will react, especially in busy cities. However, Starship says that so far, no vehicles have been damaged or stolen, and there have been no insurance claims. Perhaps people will get used to seeing the vehicles on the pavements in Milton Keynes and this will convince businesses in other areas to use them. Only time will tell!

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