Robots for Last-Mile Delivery


Innovations in robotics and AI are happening in supply chains and the delivery industry. One company thinks they have found a way to make last-mile deliveries safely and efficiently. With robots, of course. Alibaba recently became the only company to move beyond the pilot stage to actual commercial operations using their last-mile delivery robot called the G Plus, according to robotics company Starship’s Vice President Henry Harris-Burland.

The robots can deliver parcels, groceries, and food. One of their goals is to deliver food from restaurants or consumer goods from stores to consumers and businesses within 60 minutes. You can watch the bots’ progress on your smartphone. And these high-tech deliveries won’t even break the bank, with a $1.99 price in the US.

So, how does it work? You download an app, make an order, and choose where you want the goods delivered. You then use an app on your smartphone to open the bot and get your stuff. According to Starship, the robot is always locked and can only be opened by the recipient, to keep products safe.

Harris-Burland says they have two business models: “We are a delivery service, we run the robots and take delivery fees. Secondly, we work with partners in a variety of industries who pay us a fee in a Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) model.”

The robots can carry up to 20 pounds in weight or three shopping bags in volume. It’s not refrigerated but can keep things cool or warm (for short periods of time) with insulation bags.

The bots are equipped with radar, ultrasonic, stereo vision, and time of flight cameras. All these sensors let the robots work in rain or shine, day or night.

The bot navigates using a system called Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). The delivery area is mapped and the robots can move through it independently. They use sensors to find themselves on the map and in relation to what’s around them. The bots can stop or move around any object that blocks their path. They may be smart robots, but they weren’t built for speed. The robots’ maximum speed is 4 miles per hour.

The bots are not completely autonomous though. The bots can call into a control tower for help. The humans in the control tower can take control to help the bot and then let it go back on its own again.

So, are robots the future of parcel delivery? You might be seeing these delivery bots on the streets sooner rather than later. “Our plan is to scale to 1,000 bots within a year,” said Harris-Burland.