Robots: Next Workforce for On-Demand Deliveries

With on demand business taking over the traditional business model, the next big disruption can be delivery robots. In 2015, Starship Technologies tested its delivery robots in partnership with DoorDash, a food delivery startup and Postmates, a courier marketplace. Now, their robots have started delivering food for restaurants in Silicon Valley. These robots were first designed to collect rock samples on Mars and the moon. Eventually, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, cofounders of Skype and Starship, used this technology to develop delivery robots. They received funding of $17 million from Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz in 2016. On March 23, 2017 their delivery robot got its first order through DoorDash app. Based on DoorDash’s algorithm, the order was assigned to the robot. Its smart algorithm makes a choice whether to assign an order to a delivery person or a robot, based upon delivery radius and other factors.

The common problem faced by every on demand business is accomplishment of last mile deliveries in congested suburban areas. Robots are here to change the scenario of last mile deliveries and looks like they are already doing it pretty well.

Unlike self-driving cars, Starship robots would not cause any harm. According to Starship Technologies, their delivery robots have encountered over 3 million pedestrians without any harmful incident. Every tiny robot has nine cameras along with ultrasonic sensors, which creates a virtual boundary around it. When it detects any person or object entering that boundary, the robot makes a quick decision to stop or avoid it. Moreover, the robot can detect traffic light signals accurately to know when to cross the roads safely. In situations where robots need human help, they send a signal to the help center. Backend employees see through the robot’s camera and instruct them on the basis of what they see.

To get orders delivered safely to its customers, DoorDash notifies arrival of food through the app. The customer, after getting a notification, will be displayed with an option to unlock the lid.
The robot screams (rings an alarm) when somebody tries to kidnap it. Since, robots are delivering only food items for now, there is not much risk. However, to deliver other things, the company would have to come up with high tech safety measures. For now, the industries can rely on the cameras and GPS tracking system embedded in these robots.

While it is impossible to replace the entire human workforce with delivery robots, enterprises can use a mixed proportion of humans as well as delivery robots as their field workforce. Referring to the same concern, Stanley Tang said:

“We have people who use cars, bikes, scooters, motorcycles or walk to make a delivery. And each has a different strength and suitability for different deliveries. Robots will be another type of vehicle in our system.”

Customer behavior has changed immensely. The modern customer believes in getting services on demand. With several traditional businesses getting online, some hold back because of the not-so-successful delivery standards. Such industries can now get online with their services and use delivery robots as their efficient field-force to gratify the instant needs of customers.

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