Delivery Robots Out in Force in Redwood City


In December of last year, London based Starship Technologies rolled out a 9-month pilot program of their robotic delivery service in Redwood City. Masterminded by Ahti Heinla, co-founder and former Chief Technical Architect of Skype, Starship Technologies hopes to provide autono-mous food and grocery delivery that can be implemented by existing third-party delivery services like Door Dash and Postmates (both of which became the Starship’s first official US partners this year).

At this point, Starship reports their robots have reached 90% automation, only needing remote assistance while crossing streets. However, if you happen to run into one in the streets of Redwood City, it will likely have a human “handler” in tow. This is in part to ensure safety while the robots are still mapping out the city, but also to help with community engagement.

We recently caught up with Starship’s Head of Operations in California, Justin Hoffman, who filled us in on his company’s mission and future in Redwood City. He informed us that while the robots currently only operate within about a 2-mile radius of their office at 234 Marshall, they hope to expand their service area by setting up additional charging hubs at various points throughout the city. As of right now, Redwood City residents cannot specifically request robotic delivery, but Hoffman did say there’s a possibility Doordash will offer that feature by the end of the 9-month pilot. For now, keep an eye out for these robots as you pass through Redwood City!

Read below for a complete transcript of our brief interview with Justin Hoffman:

How far do the robots deliver from your office on Marshall?

–2 mile radius is what we are initially beginning with

Are there plans to open additional charging hubs to allow a greater service area?

–In the mid-to-long term we aim to have automated charging/delivery dispatch hubs in a given city to broaden service areas and enable greater efficiency amongst the network of robots

Which elements of the delivery process have not become fully autonomous? When do your handlers have to step in to help?

–When a robot reaches a crosswalk, for example, the robot will ping a robot “operator” (a remote operator who sees through the robot’s cameras to guide it in difficult situations) to assist it when crossing the road. Handlers currently help us engaging with the community, assisting with mapping, and managing day-to-day operations

Are Redwood City residents within your service area currently able to request robotic delivery? If not, will they be able to at any point during the 9-month pilot?

–We currently operate through partners such as Doordash (and very soon Postmates), and at some toward the end of the pilot, you may be able to request a robot specifically for your order.

Will Starship’s delivery service ultimately be integrated into existing third-party delivery services like Door Dash?

–We actually are currently integrated already with third-party commercial partners such as Doordash. As we build more partnerships, we will be available for a variety of types of deliveries, including groceries and (e-commerce) packages as well.

Do you have plans to expand into other Bay Area cities any time soon?

–Yes, we are currently in talks with a variety of other cities in the Bay Area. We shall announce names over the coming weeks/months.

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