via AFP

We are living in the future that decades ago movies and TV shows predicted so much. Recently little six-wheeled robots started roaming through the streets of England. In Milton Keynes, a residential area near London, automated delivery robots have been a part of the community for a while now. Currently, there are 200 that roam the streets of that city and also of neighboring Northampton, delivering purchases or meals. Soon there will be 500, colonizing five new municipalities, especially in the Cambridge region and in the north of England.

“Everybody needed contactless delivery,” sums up Andrew Curtis, UK head of operations for the group that builds and operates these robots.

The company indicates that its robots make 1,000 daily deliveries in the country and that demand has not decreased despite the end of restrictions due to the pandemic. Starship Technologies has just signed a new agreement with the cooperative supermarket chain Co-op, one of its historical partners, to make 300 new robots available by the end of the year and multiply deliveries by three.
In front of one of the supermarket branches in Milton Keynes, the first to use this service in 2018, a dozen robots wait patiently.

An employee leaves the store and places an order on the hood of one of them: a small bag containing raspberries, yogurt, and a bouquet of flowers. With the lid closed, the robot is immediately thrown down the sidewalk. Turn and go to cross the street, before backing up to let a car pass.

They perform all these movements autonomously. Equipped with cameras and sensors, it is 99% autonomous, according to its manufacturer. If the automaton is faced with an unknown situation, an operator can control it remotely. For Co-op, the challenge is also environmental since the use of these robots implies the reduction of polluting gas emissions.

The automaton remains the property of Starship and orders are placed through the application developed by this company, which manages about a thousand robots, mainly in the United Kingdom and the United States, but also in Estonia, Germany, and Denmark. But robots on wheels draw criticism from unions, who fear they will take over the work of humans.