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Updated 21 Jun 2018

Are last-mile delivery robots about to ‘drive’ you out of business?

Unless you plan to incorporate sentient machines in your logistics business, or develop a strategy to compete with them, robotic delivery systems are about to disrupt you. 

Nicole Crampton, 09 April 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

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Starship Technologies’ six-wheeled, knee-high robots are coming to market as part of an automated system aimed at improving ‘last-mile’ delivery of goods to consumers. If you’re delivering food or products in cities and suburbs, you might have to deal with these robots on your routes in the future.

The robots are designed to deliver customers’ goods cost-effectively, and when it’s most convenient for all parties concerned, according to Starship Technologies

Related: The future is here: How self-driving vehicles will revolutionise logistics


“We’re trying to solve real social and economic problems. This will take cars and vans off the road. We can also provide deliveries to the elderly and handicapped who have difficulty getting around,” says Starship Technologies spokesman, Henry Harris-Burland.

If you’re looking for creative ways to grow your company’s transportation services, why not consider how robots can improve your market positioning. Here are a few key things you need to know about Starship Technologies’ machines and what you can do about it:

They offer cost-effective deliveries

Cost -effective -deliveries

To keep costs down, this robot has been fitted with only the ‘essentials’. It costs less to run than traditional delivery services (vans and trucks), and it doesn’t require an operator (driver). Allan Martinson, Starship’s chief operating officer says that the robots operate autonomously using proprietary digital maps and sophisticated software to interact with the environment and receivers.

Sending a robot means less time wasted for your drivers who now have to stand outside customers’ gates ringing the bell. The robot takes the item to the consumer, at their convenience, which can speed up your offering and improve your customer service if you opt to incorporate it into your business.

They won’t waste time ‘getting lost’

Visual localisation technology allows the robot to undertake real-time mapping of the environment using nine cameras to navigate along sidewalks and circumvent obstacles, people and pets.

“We can see every crosswalk, every traffic light, every pothole,” Harris-Burland said. “A lot of companies have mapped roads but no one has mapped sidewalks.” Not only will this speed up your delivery time, but the robot can navigate South Africa’s sidewalks, find the customer, and return to the delivery truck (or your satellite delivery office) by itself.

Related: Must read insights on why trucks don’t make sense as delivery vehicles

They offer security features

Not every item delivered is going to be low-cost, which means this little robot will need to have security features in case someone tries to steal its cargo, or steal the robot itself.

Harris-Burland says that the lid of the robot is locked during deliveries and if someone picks up the robot, a car-alarm type noise will start blaring. These measures will offer your customers safe delivery and will ensure your delivery robot isn’t stolen while on the job.

Incorporate it into your offering?

This innovative technology is already used by courier companies in the United States as part of a pilot programme. The delivery robots are partnering with DoorDash in Redwood City, California and with Postmates in Washington.

The robots will soon be all over cities in the USA, and incorporating similar machines into your logistics offerings could present an opportunity to hold onto your clients in congested cities and suburbs in the future.   


  • You can investigate incorporating this robot into your last-mile delivery solutions.
  • Visual localisation technology determines the best route for the little robot along sidewalks instead of the road.
  • It can activate security features to ensure the safety of your customer’s goods and your robot. 
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About the author

Nicole Crampton

Introducing the owner-driver responsibilities & risks

Bryan Verpoort, Head of Corporate & Business Insurance at Standard Bank advises smaller businesses on the risks and considerations when contracting to transport goods for a large company.

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