Delivery robots are the solution to steadily rising parcel volumes resulting from online retail. They will deliver parcels to customers’ doors quickly, safely and autonomously, and so relieve road congestion. Logistics service provider Hermes has been testing the robot 6D9 from Starship Technologies over a number of months in Hamburg.
The consequences of the trend towards ever more online shopping are seen in many towns and cities, especially in the run-up to Christmas. It often seems that there are parcel service vans standing by the roadside every few metres, usually double-parked too – an irritating obstruction that causes congestion on the roads and increases pollution. So experts are working feverishly, and with great creativity, to come up with new, sustainable solutions.
With a little luck, it might be possible to experience one such solution in operation around the Ottensen area of Hamburg. For a period up to March 2017, logistics service provider Hermes Germany has been testing delivery robots from start-up company Starship Technologies. “Using robots can revolutionise parcel delivery, particularly in urban areas,” asserts Frank Rausch, CEO of Hermes Germany.
Using the pavement
The delivery robot 6D9 is a six-wheeled vehicle, 50 centimetres tall and 70 centimetres long. It incorporates a secure compartment capable of carrying a payload with a total maximum weight of 15 kilograms. The delivery robot runs solely on the pavement, at a maximum speed of 6 km/h – that is to say, at walking pace. It only crosses cycle paths and roads after checking first that all is clear. The built-in cameras and sensors ensure that approaching obstacles are automatically detected, and the robot immediately stops. Bright LEDs mean every robot is clearly visible from a distance.
A new service channel
The robots can operate within a radius of up to five kilometres. This means automated deliveries can be made within 30 minutes of a customer placing an order. During the pilot, the delivery robots run back and forth between the participating parcel shops and selected test customers. The consignments carried are regular orders which customers have requested to be delivered to a Hermes parcel shop rather than to their home. Instead of going to the shop to collect their order in person, the test customers can use their smartphone to arrange for a robot to then bring the parcel to their home. So the robots do not replace conventional parcel delivery routes, or indeed parcel services. Rather, with the Starship robot Hermes is piloting a new service channel which eliminates the need for customers to come and collect their order in person from a shop.
Well protected against theft
The consignments in the transport compartment are protected against unauthorised access by a security lock, a surveillance camera and a PIN code. Once the robot has reached its destination, the recipient receives a text message notification and can go to the door to take delivery of the order. The transport compartment is opened using an encrypted personalised link. If any attempt is made to open the compartment by force, the robot immediately triggers an alarm and notifies the operator. The robot’s position can be tracked at all times by its continuous GPS signal.
Still with human assistance
6D9 navigates by a combination of locating signals (such as GPS) and visualising its surroundings based on multiple cameras. The system automatically recognises pedestrian crossings and traffic lights. This is done by means of sensors and nine camera lenses, which convert the received image data fully automatically into appropriate commands in real time. For guidance at tricky spots, and if any uncertainty arises, a human remote operator located at the Starship control centre in Tallinn can connect to the robot over the Internet. The operator is able to view the camera images from the robot and also receives its navigation data, so as to help it out of a difficult situation by remote control. With every trip the parcel delivery robot “learns” more and more, so continually enhances its autonomy. Nevertheless, on their pilot runs the robots are permanently accompanied by a human guide, in order to gather as much information as possible on how they operate.
(Bildnachweis: Istockphoto: Altayb)