Someday robots will become self-aware, liberate themselves from their human overlords, and demand things like wages, paid vacations, and free maintenance service. Before that happens, it looks like they will be showing up at your front door to deliver pizza, groceries, packaged merchandise, orders from Amazon, and even mail.
The robot pictured at left is named Digit and is a creation of the Ford Motor company. When the autonomous delivery van pulls up to your house, Digit will leap out of the rear door and actually take your package to your door. Digit walks much as humans do, except the knees bend backward not forward. Digit has no head (bummer), but still can lift up to 40 pounds. Maybe we could retrofit it with one of those plastic Halloween pumpkins for a head?
Amazon already has its own fleets of airplanes, trucks, and drones. Unsurprisingly, Amazon is testing a delivery robot named Scout. Scout is a six wheeled box that sort of looks like a beer cooler on wheels. Maybe Scout will be available on Amazon for just that purpose! Amazon is currently testing Scout in Snohomish County, Washington. For now, each Scout has a human overseer who is there to make sure nothing goes awry, or at least to hide the evidence..
Starship Technologies was launched in Estonia in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. Starship has made over 30,000 deliveries in over 100 cities, including Washington DC, London, and San Francisco, and George Mason University campus. Starship is the oldest of the robots featured in this article, and probably the most mature technically. Another rolling beer cooler design. Starship has offices in San Francisco, London, Tallinn (Estonia), Helsinki. Mountain View (CA), Wahington DC, and Hamburg (Germany).
Even if it is a bit unimaginative, this is the first robot with a first and last name. Same-Day was designed with the help of Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway. Currently it is being tested in The FedEx headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee, but undoubtedly we will see these soon in a location near you, too. Again, no head, but it does have a tiny camera tower up top that is sort of like a head.
Nuro was founded in 2016 by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu. They have worked on the Google Waymo self-driving car project. Nuro is a bigger bot about the size of a Smart car. It has heated and refrigerated compartments suitable for grocery deliveries, and has been tested by Fry Foods in Scottsdale, AZ, and soon to be tested in Houston, TX, in a partnership with Kroger Foods.
Serve is from Postmates. Postmates currently offers a smartphone app that allows you to get “anything, anytime, anywhere” in the style of GrubHub and UberEats. This currently includes delivery or take-out food, drinks, and groceries. The autonomous robot is seen as an extension of their current delivery fleet. Serve can carry 50 pounds and travel 30 miles on a single charge. Human interaction happens using a touchscreen and cameras, and has “eyes” and a light ring to help signal changes in direction.
I can’t wait for sidewalks to be crawling with different robots scurrying too and fro carrying all manner of goods. Maybe we will have to give them their own lane, like bicycles have now. Maybe they will begin to dress in gang colors and rumble under the freeway! Or execute “drive-by tippings.” Maybe there will be a musical play where a Scout falls in love with a Serve, a la “West Side Story.” In any event, the future (next week) is certainly going to be interesting.
- USA Today – Digit
- USA Today – Scout
- Tech Republic
- Sophia – The first robot to gain citizenship. And from Wikipedia