Starship Technologies’ cute sidewalk drones will roll into London soon

Soon, you won’t only have to look up to spot a drone, you’ll see them on the sidewalk, because this cute six-wheeled land drone from Starship Technologies is almost ready to start making deliveries. It’s in the testing phase around the world, while the company is signing partnerships with interested businesses.

Test programs all set to start this summer

Most recently, Starship Technologies partnered with Just Eat, a food delivery company in Europe, which intends to have the drones rolling along streets in London. Just Eat’s app brings together local restaurants, so you can order and pay for what you want in a single spot, with the deliveries currently made by people. In the near future, the drones will become part of Just Eat’s delivery work force. Announcements of the restaurants and exact locations where the drone will work will be made soon, and the expectation is to start the test program in the next few months.

In the U.S., Starship Technologies has gained approval from the Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation to begin tests of the drone. Given that D.C. is a “no-fly zone” for airborne drones, Starship’s option appears to be a solution to that problem. It is the first ever approved test for ground-based drones anywhere in the U.S., and they should begin in September and continue through to the end of 2017.

Starship hopes that the results of the pilot program will herald in a new era of drone delivery that may cost as little as $1 per trip to run. In areas where drones can’t fly, this would be the only way to make automated delivery feasible.

From the minds that brought you Skype

Starship Technologies is a startup founded by former Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. Their ground-based drones can carry up to 20 pounds of packages, although in the District they wouldn’t be permitted to go any faster than 10 miles per hour, and no more than five bots are allowed on the sidewalks at any time during the testing period.

So what will these bots look like? They’ll look a lot like coolers with wheels, but don’t be fooled by their unassuming exteriors; they’ve got a lot of sophisticated tech under the hood. Starship has equipped the bots with myriad different cameras, sensors, and autonomous navigation technologies, which work in concert to help the machine travel along city sidewalks, dodge pedestrians, and transport goods from one location to another.

Unless they’re crossing a street, the robots don’t drive on roads. Instead, they’re designed specifically to travel on sidewalks — which sounds ridiculous until you think about it for a minute. Starship’s sidewalk-based drone delivery scheme actually carries a number of big advantages.

For starters, ground-based bots can carry much bigger payloads than your average airborne drone, and can do so with far less energy expenditure. There’s also a much smaller risk of crashing, since Starship’s drones never actually leave the ground.

The biggest advantage, however, is that because Starship’s drones don’t operate on roadways or fly through the air, the company doesn’t have to overcome nearly as many regulatory hurdles before it can deploy these delivery drones in cities all over the globe. So keep your fingers crossed and you might be sharing a crosswalk with one of these bots in the not-too-distant future.

Updated on 07-06-2016 by Andy Boxall: Added news of a U.K. trial with Just Eat

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