One of the things that struck me during my recent trip to Tokyo was the lack of robots. I figured a town so futuristic would be filled with them. But if Japanese robotics company ZMP has its way, I could spot a few scurrying around by the time I attend the Smart Kitchen Summit: Japan next year.

The Japan Times reports that ZMP has developed an autonomous, four-wheeled rover robot called the CarriRo Deli, which the company wants to use for food deliveries. The CarriRo is nearly fully autonomous, meaning it can navigate to its destinations and avoid obstacles on its own. If it gets stuck in an unfamiliar situation, a robot teleoperator can intervene.

The CarriRo is 65.4 cm wide × 96.2 cm long × 95.6 cm high, goes 6 kilometers per hour and can carry 50 kg. For comparison, Starship’s rover bots are 56.9 cm wide x 67.8 cm long x 55.4 cm high, go 6 km per hour and can hold 10 kg. The CarriRo comes in various configurations with either a single storage compartment or smaller four and eight storage bin options. Additionally, the CarriRo also features LED eyes to make it more lifelike (like the Kiwi-bot!).

ZMP has held trials at various universities in Japan (that sounds familiar!). But Japanese law currently prohibits autonomous vehicle travel on public roads, though the government is looking at opening up public roads for unmanned robot trials before April 2020.

Here in the U.S., there are a number of companies looking to use rover robots for last-mile delivery including the aforementioned Starship, as well as Marble, Refraction AI, Kiwi and even Amazon. Though companies need to deal with various local and state laws here as well before delivery robots become commonplace.

Japan is an interesting test case for robot-driven food delivery as the country faces a greying population, which is causing a labor crunch. Robots are seen as a way to ease that labor shortage and help the elderly. But in a bit of refreshing forethought, ZMP doesn’t want its robots to be too convenient because as The Japan Times notes “this could discourage people from going out and interacting with others — a real and worsening problem as rural parts of Japan continue to depopulate.”

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