Starship’s small, autonomous food delivery robots could soon be rolling around Frisco, TX. The Community Impact Newspaper in Frisco reports that earlier this week Starship pitched its robotic plans to the town’s city council.
If adopted, Starship’s robots would be making deliveries from local restaurants and grocery stores in that area. More importantly during this COVID-19 pandemic, those deliveries would be done without human-to-human contact.
Community Impact writes that the city council is still working through details with Starship, but it looks like the program will proceed, with a launch announcement expected in the next few weeks.
The expansion into Frisco would follow Starship’s recent deployments to other cities such as Fairfax, VA and Tempe, AZ. One thing Frisco, Fairfax and Tempe all have in common is that they are (relatively) close to a college or university that Starship had previously been serving (University of Texas at Dallas, George Mason University and Northern Arizona University, respectively).
A Starship rep told Community Impact: “With the pandemic, a lot of campuses have emptied out of students. So we have accelerated our long-term plans, which is to offer neighborhood deliveries.”
It would make sense that Starship would take those college robots and let them loose in nearby neighborhoods to make deliveries to the general public. If that logic holds true, we can probably expect to see Starship robots making deliveries in towns near Houston, TX; Madison, WI, Pittsburgh, PA; and West Lafayette, IN.
Robots could have greater appeal as a delivery mechanism given heightened fears people now have of viral transmissions. Robots don’t get sick and can be easily sanitized. This, in combination with working with smaller towns, could make local governments more willing to put autonomous vehicles on their sidewalks.
Prior to the pandemic, cities and states were cautious about allowing robots to run about on public streets and sidewalks. But shelter in place orders across the country have spurred demand for home delivery of food and groceries. Robots, with their ability to run around the clock, can help meet that demand.
We’re already seeing more robots on public streets. In Ann Arbor, MI, Refraction’s REV-1 is making restaurant and grocery deliveries. And in California, Nuro has been given the go ahead to test its autonomous delivery vehicle on public roads.
One thing that could hold robot delivery back, however, is the commission fees it is charging. We learned recently that Starship can charge almost as much as a human-powered third-party delivery service. This seems to defeat the labor cost savings robots are supposed to bring, and not at all helpful to restaurants that are struggling to stay in business. But as Starship pointed out, they are working on an accelerated timeline, and hopefully the company will soon bring more equity to its delivery.
If you’re in one of these towns where robots can bring you food, drop us a line and let us know how it went, and if you’d use them again!