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Skype founders to pilot self-driving delivery robots

Two Skype co-founders have a new project which aims to improve local delivery of goods and groceries, making it almost free.

The company, Starship Technologies, is developing fleets of self-driving delivery robots with plans to launch the first pilot services in the US and UK this year.

“Our vision revolves around three zeroes – zero cost, zero waiting time and zero environmental impact. We want to do to local deliveries what Skype did to telecommunications,” said Ahti Heinla, a Skype co-founder and CEO of Starship Technologies.

The company claims the yet-to-be-named robot couriers can carry two bags of groceries and complete local deliveries within 5 to 30 minutes from a local hub or retail outlet, for 10 to 15 times less than the cost of current last-mile delivery alternatives.

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Customers can choose from a selection of short, precise delivery slots and during delivery and they can track the robot’s location in real time through a mobile app. On arrival only the app holder is able to unlock the cargo.

Integrated navigation and obstacle avoidance software enables the robots to drive autonomously, but they are also overseen by human operators who can step in to ensure safety at all times, the company said.

“With e-commerce continuing to grow consumers expect to have more convenient options for delivery – but at a cost that suits them,” Heinla said.

“The last few miles often amounts to the majority of the total delivery cost. Our robots are purposely designed using the technologies made affordable by mobile phones and tablets – it’s fit for purpose, and allows for the cost savings to be passed on to the customer.

“They travel at the slow speed of four miles per hour – a brisk walking pace. They don’t fly – these are not drones. They travel on pavements/sidewalks, blending safely in with pedestrian traffic.”

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