While human delivery people may someday face competition from flying Amazon and Google drones, those drones themselves may have a worthy competitor in robots, the likes of which the Chronicle now profiles.
“It doesn’t make sense to drive a two-ton car to deliver two pounds of something. It wastes energy, time and CO2.” one robotics CEO, Allan Martinson, told the paper. His company, Starship Technologies, was founded by some former architects of Skype, and is perhaps testing with designs to deliver goods for Walmart. If you think Starship's robot probes look like they belong on a distant planet, you aren't wrong — they're repurposed space-sample collectors designed for a NASA contest.
Another challenger in the delivery race is Dispatch, not to be confused with the stoner-bro band of yore, and the company's aptly-named bot "Carry." Though just two such Carry robots exist, Dispatch is well funded, having scored a $2 million investment round led by esteemed VC group Andreessen Horowitz. Carry's appearance is also somewhat striking — it looks like an ambitious mini-fridge or the precursor to R2D2 from Star Wars.
But, as opposed to navigating a barren lunar landscape, robo-deliverers from Starship and Dispatch must navigate a bustling human world. To get its start, Dispatch is using Carry to stroll around Menlo College and CSU Monterey Bay. “The great thing about college campuses is that they are dynamic with bikes, skateboards, pedestrians,” Dispatch CEO Stav Braun said. “It’s a great environment to train our system.”
Starship and Carry can each accommodate more than a flying drone — four to five grocery bag-sized loads or so — and best of all, they won't fall out of the sky. But nonetheless, legal frameworks and regulations, the bugaboo of innovation, will require as much careful maneuvering as city streets or college quads.
To that effect, the Chronicle points out that last week, the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the way for some drones, while in DC, a bill concerning driverless couriers, the Personal Delivery Device Act of 2016, will be considered soon.
Starship and Carry are autonomous and electric, but can also be controlled remotely, many at a time by a single person in Starship's conception. And as for the drone competition? “The technology is at this inflection point potentially where it can work really well, Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon tells Forbes. “If you actually study the math of shipping a toothbrush to you, it costs $5 for a flying drone and just 50 cents on the ground.”