NEW YORK — As Amazon, Walmart, Google and others experiment with delivering packages through drones, not everyone is enamored with the idea of delivering packages through the air.
A new startup called Starship Technologies is hoping to take a more grounded approach. On Monday the European company created by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis announced plans for a fleet of small, autonomous electric vehicles that can deliver packages from a local hub or stores in 5 to 30 minutes.
The vehicle, called Starship, looks like a high tech version of a cooler you’d bring to a beach or tailgate. It travels about four miles per hour and is capable of carrying up to 20 pounds, or what the startup says is the equivalent of two grocery bags.
The company is hoping that by deploying its fleet it can bring the cost of deliveries made by Starships to under $1.
Similar to ordering a car from Uber, the robots can be summoned through an app to make the delivery at a time slot that works for you. And as with Uber or other ride sharing apps, Starship users can similarly track and monitor the robot’s commute from its hub to your address from within the app.
To ensure packages are securely delivered, only the app user can unlock the Starship and access the contents inside.
As with other autonomous vehicles the Starship incorporates GPS, cameras and other sensors to navigate to your home and then uses those same sensors to return to its hub once the delivery is completed. The robot is designed to travel on streets and sidewalks and the sensors on the device can also detect and automatically stop if it notices something getting in its way.
The company says that the ‘bots are overseen by human operators to “ensure safety at all times.” Those human operators can also utilize the Starship’s speaker and microphone to act as a deterrent in the event someone wants to tamper or steal the vehicle. That operator can also notify police in the event something goes wrong.
Starship is targeting the first half of 2016 for the first trials in the U.S. and Britain, putting it on a similar timeframe as the anticipated arrival of drone deliveries.
On Monday Google executive David Vos said at a conference in Washington that he expects commercial deliveries by its Project Wing drone program to take place in 2017.
Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal
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