Starship Delivery Robots Find Mothership in Mercedes ‘Robovan’

Instead of completing door-to-door delivery, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans will drive to pre-agreed locations to load and unload goods and then dispatch the Starship delivery robots in the final step for on-demand delivery.

Starship Technologies and Mercedes-Benz Vans are teaming up on delivery robots with their new “Robovan” semi-autonomous transportation system. Special Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans will act as “motherships” that can hold up to eight of Starship’s delivery robots and increase the efficiency of neighborhood delivery.

Here’s how the system works. Instead of completing door-to-door delivery, the vans will drive to pre-agreed locations to load and unload goods and then dispatch the Starship delivery robots in the final step for on-demand delivery. Upon making the customer delivery, the robots will autonomously find their way back to the van for re-loading.

Starship says this tag-team approach allows 400 packages to be delivered in a 9-hour shift, compared to 180 packages using standard delivery methods. If true, that’s an increase of more than 120 percent.

Photos: A Look Inside Robovan

“Starship Technologies has solved the last mile problem by introducing sidewalk delivery robots,” says Ahti Heinla, CEO of Starship Technologies. “However, vans are best suited to bring goods to the local area from businesses and distribution centers. When the two transportation methods converge into one, the outcome is the most efficient, cost effective and convenient local delivery method in the world.”

Starship Mercedes-Benz VansCredit: Starship Technologies

Mercedes-Benz Vans and Starship started officially working together earlier this summer. The companies also say their delivery system will cut down on congestion on the streets and C02 emissions.

“We see a huge potential for robotic delivery systems in the future and by combining our vans and the robots – we call it the mothership concept,” says Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “With this we are able to increase the efficiency of delivery by an order of magnitude. Working together is like having best of both worlds – the power of a leading van manufacturer combined with the agility and spirit of a startup.”

Starship’s delivery robots can carry up to 40 pounds within a 3-mile (5km) radius. The robots move at pedestrian speed and use a combination of GPS and multiple cameras to map their environment. They can also navigate around objects and people. The cargo bay of the delivery robots are locked throughout the journey and can be opened only by the recipient.

Starship also recently partnered with Swiss Post, Switzerland’s national postal service, to test its delivery robots in three locations across the country. Swiss Post will trial Starship’s delivery robots in the capital, Bern, and the towns of Biberist and Köniz. The idea is to see how effective the robots can be at carrying goods over the last mile of the delivery route.

Starship Swisspost

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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