Delivery Robots: Coming to a Sidewalk Near You
Major package delivery stakeholders such as UPS, FedEx, DHL, and Amazon have poured considerable resources into technology that will deliver packages by airborne drone. But their efforts face constant regulatory obstacles that slow the speed at which the technology can be tested and developed. In the meantime, a start-up is testing an idea that has its feet more firmly on the ground.
Marble, a California-based maker of autonomous ground-delivery robots, teamed up with Yelp Eat24 to test food deliveries in San Francisco. Running on technology similar to self-driving cars, Marble’s robots can safely share city sidewalks with pedestrians, using artificial intelligence to continually improve the way they operate. They travel about three to four miles per hour, and can hold up to four bags of food.
As the robots travel around the city, they map sidewalks so they can make more efficient deliveries in the future. For the time being, a Marble employee accompanies each robot to answer questions from the public and intervene in the event of an emergency or equipment failure. The robots are also monitored remotely, and operators can speak to customers through them.
"We’re creating a more efficient, reliable, and affordable way for people to receive what they need and want from their cities while reducing urban congestion and carbon footprint," said Marble CEO and co-founder Matt Delaney in a press statement. "Our system bolsters local commerce and unlocks the full potential of the on-demand economy, allowing it to be something that everyone can benefit from."
While initial testing focuses on food delivery, developers see potential for several other applications. Groceries, pharmacy prescriptions, and last-mile package delivery are on the horizon for Marble’s robots. While airborne drones get tied up in regulatory battles, the concept of small package delivery by ground-bound robots hasn’t faced as much opposition from lawmakers and government agencies.
"With the rapid growth of the on-demand and e-commerce markets, solving the last-mile delivery problem is incredibly important," said Greg Reichow, general partner at Eclipse, a major investor in Marble, in a press release.
Marble faces competition from other delivery robot manufacturers, such as Dispatch and Starship Technologies, which also have test robots out in the world. With the concept catching on, it may not be long before delivery robots are a common sight on U.S. roads and sidewalks.