News

Delivery robots heading to Mountain View

Three companies seek city approval to launch pilot programs on city sidewalks

Robots in Mountain View are already driving passengers, running security patrols and baking pizzas. But very soon, these automatons could also be delivering dinner, going on beer runs or picking up your dry cleaning.

Three startup companies have recently asked Mountain View officials for permission to test out their prototype delivery bots in town. These robots -- some of which look like they were built to explore the surface of Mars -- will instead be navigating the city's sidewalks and learning to maneuver around pedestrians, pets and traffic.

Mountain View officials say they are eager to serve as the technology's proving ground. City staff expect to draft policies for a pilot program later this year.

To hear the companies describe it, delivery robots are nearly ready for prime time. The technology closely mirrors the race to develop self-driving cars, with 12 companies around the world reportedly competing to design delivery bots.

"It's a super exciting time for the industry," said Henry Harris-Burland, vice president of marketing for Starship Technologies. "This is an emerging industry that I compare to self-driving cars. I see delivery bots as following a similar trajectory."

For Starship, the testing phase in Mountain View will focus on food delivery. Headquartered in London, Starship has already set up shop in the Bay Area with a satellite office in Redwood City. In May, that Peninsula city launched a nine-month pilot program to test out the Starship's robots on public sidewalks. Since then, Starship has also started testing out similar deliveries in San Carlos, Sunnyvale, Concord and Walnut Creek.

In Redwood City, the pilot program has gone remarkably smoothly, said city Economic Development Manager Catherine Ralston. Starship partnered with the food-delivery service Doordash to have its robots transport meals from restaurants in Redwood City's downtown area. Starship's robots move just slightly faster than walking speed, about 4 mph, and they have a range of only about 2 miles. For this testing phase, Starship has been sending out employees to babysit the robots while they're on deliveries.

"It's a been really successful so far," Ralson said. "Sometimes the robot can get bottlenecked by all the pedestrians, but generally it always ends up being able to get by."

Any attempt to bring Starship's technology to Mountain View would be implemented gradually, Harris-Burland said. The city's downtown, with its array of restaurants and wide sidewalks, is the perfect testing ground, he said. The ultimate goal is to drive down the costs to less than $2 per delivery, which would attract a lot more restaurants to sign up with the service, he said.

If food deliveries are successful, the company hopes to quickly expand its business to handle grocery trips and delivering parcels.

But even during its testing phase, Starship will have some competition. A Swiss firm, TeleRetail, has also requested permission to try out its fleet of delivery bots in Mountain View. TeleRetail CEO Torsten Scholl said his robots are designed to be a for-hire service that can be adapted to various tasks -- just don't try to transport something that's alive, Scholl said.

"The vision behind our platform is like Zipcar: anybody can use our robots to run whatever errands they want," he said. "We have a complete logistics platform that enables us to integrate any mode of transportation."

A third company, Robby Technologies of Palo Alto, has requested permission to test out its robots in Mountain View. The company did not respond to the Voice's interview request.

Mountain View is aiming to have draft policies for a delivery-robot pilot program ready this fall, said Alex Andrade, the city's economic development manager. That program would look to balance the technology's significant business opportunity with safeguards, he said.

"We want to be an enabler when it comes to technology," Andrade said. "We want them to succeed, but at the same time, we want to ensure public health and safety are protected."

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by A Talking Cat
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 10, 2017 at 2:08 pm

A Talking Cat is a registered user.

*cautiously optimistic*


9 people like this
Posted by Whismanian
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 10, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Oh boy. Pretty soon we'll all be sitting at home and not going anywhere, as we are already not talking in person to each other as we're all so addicted to our cell phones. I was thinking how kids are already shy about taking speech class. Probably even more so nowadays thanks to cell phones and technology. I passed a bus stop today and 13 out of 14 of the people waiting for the bus were hunched over looking at their phones. Perhaps our bodies will evolve to where we no longer need mouths or feet ;) Kidding. Hopefully this will all be beneficial to us, these delivery robots and the bad people out there will leave them alone. Or perhaps they can outfit them with stun guns protecting them against the bad guys!


33 people like this
Posted by Not so old former commuter
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2017 at 2:55 pm

Whis

Back in my commuting day by bus or train, everyone had their heads stuck in a newspaper while commuting. At least a phone is a lot smaller that a large newspaper when turning the page! Nobody spoke to each other then either!


8 people like this
Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Aug 10, 2017 at 2:58 pm

SRB is a registered user.

Hopefully, these robots will have to follow the same rules as bikes (or other transportation devices) on sidewalks: safe speed, pedestrian right-of-way and prohibition in crowded areas like Castro street.


1 person likes this
Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 10, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Do these things come with TASERs to zap anyone who tries to mess with them?


14 people like this
Posted by A Visionary Cat
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Aug 10, 2017 at 3:15 pm

Enthusiastically optimistic.

@Whismanian, Who would be dumb enough to vandalize an object that is capable of dumping 360 degrees of video data to the internet, along with it's location, while it is being attacked? Some people will be dumb enough, but the novelty will fade as the risks become obvious. Look at the positives. Food delivery to people that are housebound (elderly and disabled). Reduced carbon footprint versus getting in your car to get your groceries, dry-cleaning, books, pizza, etc. I would like to see my elderly parent, who can no longer drive, have a self driving car. I would like to have robots take care of me in my final years. It would be much cheaper than assisted living. I see way more benefits than negatives. The social impact is an issue for sure, but so is drug abuse. Education and self control are why I'm not a heroin addict or tethered to my smartphone (although I am fighting to not check the news more than once per day).


3 people like this
Posted by tommy G
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Aug 10, 2017 at 3:59 pm

This will be very short lived...never work.....ever


10 people like this
Posted by kick the bucket
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 10, 2017 at 4:47 pm

People already don't watch where they are going. I wonder how long it will take for someone to trip over these things, or for someone to give it the boot.


8 people like this
Posted by Mt. View Neighbor
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 10, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Great, another mess to jam up traffic. Just what we need.
I'm soooo over being a beta test site for technology.
It's so out of control that it really isn't cool. It isn't neat. It isn't fun. It's just a massive inconvenience, taking up my time and resources, slowing traffic... sooo done with the ridiculousness.

Please let me know which companies will use these so I can avoid them.


7 people like this
Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 10, 2017 at 5:15 pm

These little things should have seat on top and if they are going your way offer you a ride


6 people like this
Posted by Great
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2017 at 5:38 pm

This is great on so many levels.
They don't expect a tip. They don't chatter in a language I don't understand. They don't have kids who need free lunches and extra attention at school because their parents are working three jobs and don't have an education. They don't need subsidized housing.There are no bad hombres among them!
Can't wait for the robots doing pedicures and housecleaning.


7 people like this
Posted by Robullies
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 10, 2017 at 10:23 pm

History never changes.
Good - Ships Bad - Pirates
Good - Trains Bad - Train Robbers
Good - Students Bad - Bullies
Good - Robots Bad - Robot Pirates/Robbers/Bullies or Robullies.

You know that no sooner do we have robots to make life better, there will be Robullies stealing our packages, kidnapping our elderly parents and reprogramming our robots for the evil of the world. Hard to believe, but we accept spam, viruses and ID theft as part of life. Poor robots don't have a chance.



11 people like this
Posted by MVResidentForGood
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Aug 10, 2017 at 11:36 pm

Where is the space for movement, unless the robots can find their way under the restaurants'outdoor dining chairs and table...

And thanks to the City of Mountain View for contributing to the loss of jobs to the alien world also known as robots...


24 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2017 at 8:33 am

@kick the bucket (a resident of Sylvan Park):

"I wonder how long it will take for someone to trip over these things"

About two seconds. We already had cellphone zombies bumping into pedestrians on downtown sidewalks for years.

Even more astonishing was when some lady bumped into me in Centennial Park plaza in downtown Mountain View (at the Caltrain station). I expected to see her staring at a cellphone but in fact she was writing on a little notepad and obliviously walking. Even better, she bumped into me A SECOND TIME.

Here on the South Peninsula, she can get away with that. If she lived in southeast Asia, she would have been killed twenty years ago.

People are going to be tripping over these delivery robots frequently and will be suing the operators.

And yes, some will be squashed by passenger vehicles, the occasional VTA bus, delivery trucks, etc.

My guess is if there's a fleet of one hundred delivery robots, within the first two weeks, about 30-40% will be unavailable due to maintenance, repair, or total loss.

And if a particular unit injures someone, my guess is that it will have to be taken out of service for a full diagnostic review maybe set aside as evidence.

Public safety and health is more important than the convenience of robot deliveries.

But best of luck to the operators.


4 people like this
Posted by Cars
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Aug 11, 2017 at 11:45 am

What happened to all the cute little Waymo/Google cars? It was amusing, albeit sometimes obstructive, to see them rolling around MV.


2 people like this
Posted by Pro Bono
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2017 at 11:35 am

This could provide great entertainment. With rival companies fighting for dominance we can look forward to `Robot Wars' on our streets, with one company's bots being programmed to take out those of rival companies, maybe by pushing them into a gutter, or forcing them into blind alleys where they will run round in circles till their batteries expire.

Bring it on!


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 12, 2017 at 10:31 pm

What is to stop some wacko from taking out the pizza and replacing it with a bomb? We are so paranoid about finding unattended bags, but is this not the perfect upgrade from a suicide bomber.

As cute as they are, leave them to wander around hospitals and office buildings. I don't want one coming to my house.


1 person likes this
Posted by Steven A.
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Aug 13, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Skynet didn't immediately respond to our request for an interview.


Like this comment
Posted by SteveD
a resident of Jackson Park
on Aug 14, 2017 at 2:08 am

I wonder how long before someone steals one right off the street?


5 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2017 at 8:14 am

@Cars (a resident of Cuernavaca):

Waymo retired their bubble car fleet. They continue to test their self-driving technology in other vehicles.


2 people like this
Posted by Greg David
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 14, 2017 at 12:48 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

Wide sidewalks? Apparently this guy has never actually visited downtown Mountain View.

Those is simply going to be another nuisance downtown, just like Uber/Lyft drivers blocking traffic, pedestrians crossing against red lights, and not a cop to be found.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 14, 2017 at 2:28 pm

When the robot companies discover you can't walk in a straight line in a sidewalk on Castro street, our council will introduce and approve Robot Lanes allowing the robots a straight right of way over pedestrians on our sidewalks.

You may laugh, but Bike Lanes have taken over a lot of valuable driving space, with our tax money.


4 people like this
Posted by Tommy G
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2017 at 6:57 pm

You may laugh, but Bike Lanes have taken over a lot of valuable driving space, with our tax money.

This is a good post. I'm not laughing. This would be so California. So mountain view to have robot lanes. And if we are caught walking in the lane we will get ticketed .... sort of like the carpool lane ....$$$$$$$$$$$$$$


2 people like this
Posted by Deliver WMD
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2017 at 8:42 am

What will the North Korean regime deliver here in Silicon Valley? Anthrax? Delivery by anonymous robots. Great plan, Could make some money for some people - who do not die!


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