Tesco unveils robot delivery service in the UK

Supermarket giant, Tesco has unveiled its ambitious plans to deliver groceries in the form of a robot, in under one hour, as its preliminary trial is heralded a success. As the largest supermarket in Britain, Tesco is planning to deliver food using a six-wheeled robot buggy which will carry items within a three mile radius of a Tesco store or special delivery hubs which have been set up around the country, as part of a wider delivery scheme.

Grocer Magazine, has commented regarding the launch that Tesco was so impressed by the trial which initially only delivered to an address in London, that they now wish to start a wider pilot scheme in London later this year.

The robots have been designed and pioneered by Starship Technologies, which launched in 2014 in Estonia, with a tech-savvy slogan of ‘anything you want, anytime and anywhere’.

A spokesperson from Tesco had revealed that ‘we carried out a one-off trial as part of or Tesco Now initiative in partnership with a technology company. We learnt a great deal from this trial and we’ll be reviewing feedback before deciding our next steps’.

The trial has so far been praised for its futuristic efforts to satisfy the needs of its customers. Only a couple of months ago, Tesco launched its app for customers living in central London locations, which offered a 60 minute delivery on orders of anything up to 20 products.

Photo credit: starship.xyz/

So how does the delivery robot work?

The compartment which has been built, is the equivalent size of two large grocery bags, and unlike robots which resemble humans, the bot’s function is to be entirely self-driven. The bot will continuously be connected to the internet, deriving its connection via 3G technology to locate the address of where it has been sent to deliver to. The robot has been built with integrated navigation and ‘obstacle avoidance software’ to steer clear of objects in the road/pavement or to jump over kerbs and cobbles. The robot even has an anti-theft protocol which has been purposefully built to ward off food-thieves. If someone tries to tamper with the bot, or to steal its contents, a human operator can take over and send police to the drone’s location. In addition to these security measures, the robot has nine cameras which also helps capture the criminals face. The cargo holder which is the compartment where the food is kept is sealed and will only open for the customer once it has arrived. The robot travels at 4mph on the pavement and will complete all local deliveries within five to 30 minutes, once it has left its base. Starship has also asserted that the robot delivery scheme will cost 10 to 15 times less than the current cost of last-mile delivery alternatives.

Photo credit: starship.xyz/

Does Tesco have any rivals?

Amazon two years ago rolled out its one-hour grocery delivery service to customers, and now includes major cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool, as well as Hertfordshire, South Yorkshire and Surrey. Amazon Air become the talk of the town when it made its first delivery by drone, claiming to have delivered the package within 13 minutes. The delivery consisted of a drone leaving one of the firm’s bases in Cambridge and dropping off an Amazon Fire TV box and a bag of popcorn for the customer. Amazon Air may have been the first retail delivery giant to have done such a thing, but the distance the drone travelled was not confirmed. Amazon wants to eventually launch the drone air delivery scheme in the future, however it is limited by distance and weight restrictions. The products must be less than 5.7lbs, with items such as Apple’s MacBook Pro weighing 4.4lbs. Anything bigger, will therefore not qualify, narrowing the consumer’s scope for delivery options. Moreover, Amazon does not need a licence for its drones, however if it is successful, it will need the authorisation of the Civil Aviation Authority for all deliveries as all commercial drone flights must adhere to regulations and ensure approval before every flight.

Photo credit: amazon.com

Just Eat, one of the fastest growing takeaway delivery services in the UK, also launched a robot with the help of Starship’s at the tail end of 2016. Just Eat claimed to have made the world’s first robot delivery for an online food order. The robot works in the same way as Tesco’s bot, where a customer makes an online order, via an app and will receive their food within five to 30 minutes.

Fernando Fanton, the chief product and technology officer at Just Eat commented that:

‘This is another example of how we are pushing technology boundaries to provide our customers and restaurant partners with more choice and flexibility. We’ve always been committed to offering our customers new ways to order and pay for their food and now we’re right at the heart of a new way of delivering food which is as exciting for us as it will be for those who find a robot on their doorstep’.

Just Eats’ involvement with the Starship team has demonstrated the ‘scalable innovation’ the robots can offer, and enables the likes of Just Eat to look for ‘sustainable ways to use technology to make our customers’ and restaurant partners’ lives easier.’

The robots are designed to drive entirely independent of human navigation, and will only be monitored by humans for security and control to intervene where needed. The mini bots have already driven 5,000 miles and met more than 400,000 people, without a cause for concern.



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