A Robot to Go the 'Last Mile'
John Markoff provides a dispatch from the front lines of the automated economy in Menlo Park, California, where entrepreneurs he recently witnessed the debut of a robot capable of autonomous navigation, designed to solve the "last mile" problem familiar to planners: "getting goods like groceries, drugstore items and most small packages to suburban homes."
As self-driving cars and delivery services continue their quick ascent in the popular consciousness, products like this robot created by Starship Technologies with finding from Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, could join the two in futuristic synchronicity.
"Their task is simpler than the one facing designers of self-driving cars, because if something goes wrong, the Starship robot is much less likely to cause harm. While Amazon and Google are pursuing the idea of using airborne drones to deliver packages in urban areas, Mr. Heinla, who serves as the chief technology officer for Starship, believes his ground-based approach is more practical."
Markoff's explanation of the business model that rides on the success of this robot includes one critical distinction: "The system is not intended for crowded urban environments….Rather it is targeted for relatively affluent and uncrowded suburban neighborhoods, gated communities, assisted living facilities and campuses, where it will travel on sidewalks, programmed to mingle freely with pedestrians, bicyclists and cars."