Postmates’ to roll out Minion-like autonomous delivery robots in 2019


On-demand delivery company Postmates has unveiled an autonomous delivery robot called Serve that it’s planning to put to work in 2019.

The adorable wheel-based bot can carry items weighing up to 50 pounds and operates with a battery that gives it a range of 30 miles, which should be enough for around 12 deliveries a day, Postmates said.

Velodyne Lidar sensors help Serve to avoid obstacles, and the setup is powered by an Nvidia Xavier processor. For enhanced safety, a ring of light at the top of the robot enables it to signal its movement intentions to folks nearby, while its large eyes move around to offer hints about its next course of action. It’s also monitored remotely by a human operator when it’s out on the street.

Serve, which moves at walking speed, has a built-in touchscreen, too, that customers can use to punch in a code to access their delivery. The touchscreen also includes a help button in case a passer-by spots a problem and feels obliged to contact Postmates to let it know.

Working alongside humans, not instead of

Postmates is keen to point out that Serve won’t be putting any of its current delivery personnel out of a job. Instead, it should allow the company to make more deliveries, with the robot taking on a range of tasks that could include not only direct delivery to the customer, but also, say, item collection in busy areas where personnel might otherwise waste time looking for parking. “Serve could instantly pick up orders and transport them a few blocks to a Postmate away from occupied parking spaces and traffic,” the company suggested.

It added that so far it’s been able to test delivery routes on sidewalks in many U.S. states without impacting any of its delivery workers, at the same time “helping retailers sell even more during peak periods and reducing car congestion.”

Postmates isn’t the first outfit to be working on autonomous delivery robots. Starship Technologies, a company that previously worked with Postmates on a similar kind of project, has a robot that looks almost the same as Serve, while Italian company E-Novia is developing YAPE, short for Your Autonomous Pony Express.

Obstacles to such autonomous delivery robots include trouble from thieves and vandals (remember HitchBot?), as well as jokers who might find it fun to confuse the robot by throwing a blanket over it. Most importantly, though, regulators have to be confident of their safety before they allow them onto the city streets, though a growing number of states have been willing to greenlight trials.

As for Serve, Postmates plans to put it to work first in Los Angeles, with more cities welcoming the delivery bot over the next 12 months.

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