Author: Zoya Farooqui
From: McKinney, Texas, USA
During quarantine, I spent a lot of my summer spending hours aimlessly scrolling through TikTok just like any other teenager would. Each day I would laugh at the priceless jokes, yet I never felt bored. However, one day I came across something that blew my mind.
The TikTok video simply consisted of a woman who ordered Bubble Tea. I was about to swipe right up, thinking that it would show the same old Uber Eats or DoorDash. However, the lady had me at the word “robot”. Questions suddenly crossed my mind: Did she just mention Bubble Tea and robots in the same video? How are they even related?
I proceeded to finish watching the entire TikTok and I was blown away. She actually had a robot deliver her Bubble Tea. Yes, I thought it was a joke at first too, but I looked it up and numerous results popped up on my search engine. There were real robots delivering food right at people’s doorsteps. At that moment, I realized how far we have come in terms of technological evolution.
Image Source: Hot Tech
A Surge in Sales
Recently, especially during this pandemic, many stores are utilizing robots in order to ease labor shortage and reduce contact with other people. Companies such as Starship Technologies, Amazon Scout, and Unsupervised A.I. are quite high on the list. Although they have been around for a while now, they have gained popularity even more in the past few months. Starship Technologies, for example, has seen a huge surge in business due to the fact that these autonomous robots follow social distancing norms. Furthermore, their bots have accomplished over 100,000 deliveries and travelled over 500,000 miles altogether.
This delivery concept is pretty straightforward: The customer places an order, the order is put inside or onto the robot, and finally the robot travels to the provided address to deliver it. Seems simple right? Yet so many complicated functions take place behind the scenes during the development and the delivery processes.
Starship’s robots have some very interesting features. They can carry up to 20 pounds at once (similar to about three shopping bags), and if all of the items don’t fit in one robot, some companies send out two robots together. The robots have multiple cameras for improved movement accuracy, like navigating through curbs and obstacles. Not to mention, they provide two-way audio, allowing customers to interact with them if they have questions or concerns. There are always humans monitoring these robots behind the scenes to ensure against problems and accidents, and to answer any questions.
Customers can also use an app to track their robot’s location and estimate its arrival time. When it reaches, it sends a notification, and the customer can unlock the robot through the app as well. This also ensures safety of the items and reduces any time wastage. The deliveries usually take around 15-45 minutes, depending on the destination, as they travel at speeds of up to a maximum of 4 mph. Although these robots are quite small, they cost over $5000 to manufacture because of their complex internal processes.
How They Work
Starship’s bots use algorithms and satellite imagery to calculate the shortest distance between their starting point to the customer’s destination. As the robot spends more time travelling in a certain area, it learns about the various hurdles in its path such as buildings, driveways, and humans. Therefore, each next trip is faster and more accurate because the robot has already mapped out the area in its collaborative memory.
Even though these robots have great intelligence to work around obstacles in an area, malfunctions are a possibility, and they cannot be fully eliminated. These robots are autonomous, but as mentioned before, there are always humans monitoring them. So if complications do arise, they can work to find solutions as soon as possible.
Aside from breakdowns, robots have a long way to go in order to learn about human interactions. When you’re walking, someone might be walking right at you. Our first instincts are to speed up and move out of the way. However, the way a robot will handle the same situation may be completely different and can cause implications.
Image Source: Logistics Manager
I’ve always worked with robots as a part of a robotics team, and they’ve never failed to fascinate me. As innovative technological advancements occur, improvements in those fields will always be made. Now, we have delivery robots at our assistance. Who knows - maybe in the next decade we’ll have more realistic robots like the ones in the sci-fi movies.
Until then, find out if your closest grocery store or your favorite coffee shop employs robot deliveries. It doesn’t hurt to place an order just to have a robot at your door right?
About the Author: Zoya Farooqui
Zoya is a rising junior in high school who loves art, podcasting, programming, robotics, and spending time with her friends and family. When she’s free, she enjoys playing video games and listening to music.
Staff. “How Do Delivery Robots Work? How They Safely Deliver Your Packages.” The Better Parent, 19 Aug. 2020, www.thebetterparent.com/2020/08/how-do-delivery-robots-work-how-they-safely-deliver-your-packages-2/.
Dormehl, Luke. “Meet the Delivery Robots That Will Soon Invade Our Sidewalks.” Digital Trends, Digital Trends, 25 July 2020, www.digitaltrends.com/features/delivery-robots-coming-to-sidewalk-near-you/.
Marr, Bernard. “Demand For These Autonomous Delivery Robots Is Skyrocketing During This Pandemic.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 29 May 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2020/05/29/demand-for-these-autonomous-delivery-robots-is-skyrocketing-during-this-pandemic/.
Hand, Mark. “Robots Make Food Deliveries In Virginia During Coronavirus.” Fairfax City, VA Patch, Patch, 17 Apr. 2020, www.patch.com/virginia/fairfaxcity/robots-make-food-deliveries-fairfax-city-during-coronavirus.
Phillips, Gavin. “How Do Delivery Robots Work? How They Safely Deliver Your Packages.” MakeUseOf, MakeUseOf, 19 Aug. 2020, www.makeuseof.com/how-delivery-robots-work/.