back to article Skype founders planning non-drone robodelivery fleet. Repeat, not drones

Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis are poised to unleash a fleet of trundling robodelivery vehicles, promising to get up to two bags of groceries to your door within 30 minutes. Starship Technologies' bots, which are capable of delivering up to 5km from a central hub at a leisurely 6km/h, have all the bells and …

  1. Seanmon

    Yeah, that'll work.

    Once.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Yeah, that'll work.

      Depends what you are delivering. If it is 10kg of TNT that will be more than enough.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's your next Dr Who villain right there

    We shop, you drop.

    Dead.

  3. h 2

    Cool Box

    They will make a great looking cool box for my BBQ area.

    I'm looking forward to 'finding' one lost on the street.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    So apart from..

    ...avoiding cyclists, OAP's on mobility scooters, kids on scooters / skateboards / rollerboots, people looking at mobile screens; we now have the joys of below eye level mobile trip hazards.

    Can't wait.

  5. Dale 3
    Trollface

    Entertainment

    Heh, could be quite entertaining building little obstacle courses for these things once they start roaming your neighbourhood regularly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Entertainment

      I like the cut of your jib. Riffing on your theme, what about an un-drone racetrack? If one can arrange to block off four alleys, it's trivial to inject one of these guys via a "disappearing door" gimick. Then a quick flutter regarding the number of laps the un-drone manages to achieve...

  6. Daniel Hall

    I will give it max 3 days fro the launch before we hear:

    *It fell over trying to go up/down a bad curb.

    *It was stolen and taken apart, Johnny 5 no DISASSEMBLE!

    *It was run over.

    *IT ran out of power navigating a busy town and has been put "somewhere safe" by Joe public. In the mean time, these Skype bods, spend a week looking for it, to find its been put in the local corner shop for safe keeping.

    *It gets ravaged by an angry dog.

    etc etc

    1. frank ly

      "It gets ravaged by an angry dog."

      If it's delivering your weekly sausage and bacon supplies, you'll open the door to a robo-drone surrounded by a pack of hungry dogs, along with an army of children who tag along to see what all the fuss is about.

      1. Fraggle850

        @ frank ly

        > If it's delivering your weekly sausage and bacon supplies, you'll open the door to a robo-drone surrounded by a pack of hungry dogs, along with an army of children

        Closely followed by a health professional to offer you counselling to overcome your addiction to known carcinogens.

    2. Oflife

      Here in the U of K...

      ...you can be assured that these will be vandalised by passing youth. Kicked, pushed into the road and so on. Far more sensible for them to be used inside, such as moving items around a supermarket, warehouse, airport terminal etc.

  7. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    It is still a drone

    Who said that "drone" == flying. A rolling drone is still a drone (a remotely controlled robot).

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: It is still a drone

      I look forward to seeing them (1) trying to climb the hill up to our house, especially in the snow (2) trying to right themselves when someone has turned them on their backs.

      There's seems to be an assumption in the spec that all routes have footpaths. I live on a lane that's not only steep but also has no footpath.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: It is still a drone

        You have to remember that these things are designed to work ONLY in US Suburbia.

        Nic

        e wide roads, wide sidewalks, perfectly maintained road surfaces and NO SNOW , deep fried haggis wrappers,

        i.e. Southern California.

        Now, I'd like to see them try to deliver up some of the cobbles streets in Old Town Edinburgh on a wet November morning. They wouldn't get 50 yards before they get destroyed/blown up/knocked off.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It is still a drone

          "You have to remember that these things are designed to work ONLY in US Suburbia."

          A friend moved from the UK to Victoria, Texas. The first day in her new job she attempted to walk the short distance to the hospital. This proved to be incredibly dangerous as there were no general provisions for pedestrians. The infrastructure assumed everyone used their cars to go even short distances.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It is still a drone

          > "You have to remember that these things are designed to work ONLY in US Suburbia."

          The problem is obvious, a single-stage-to-consumer approach tries to do too much with too little. The solution is a two-stage approach, where a bigger (un)drone drives the streets like a decent plain brown van should, and when close, emits a smaller (un)drone like this one to deliver direct to the door.

          The time/distance exposure for the 2nd stage is minimized, so it may be optimized for stairs instead of roads, increasing utility.

          Finally, if bad actors attempt to molest the little guy, the big guy can send in a special type of (un)drone (held in reserve) to "deal with the situation."

        3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: It is still a drone

          "You have to remember that these things are designed to work ONLY in US Suburbia."

          Yeah, it's weird. It's almost as if the Apple Reality Distortion Field is operating over that part of California, A lot of these startup-ups and dev companies are populated by incomers from outside the area/state/country, by hipsters who go snowboarding and hiking and yet they can't seem to grasp that there is a non-flat and often crowded world outside of their little bubble. I can only imagine that they think the idea is soooo good that they are totally blind to any possible problems, subscribing instead to the belief that there are no problems, just new "challenges".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It is still a drone

      It is still a drone

      I, for one, welcome our new non-Terminator overloads.

  8. Turtle

    Cute!

    Very very cute!

    Gonna get my girlie a pink one!

  9. Fraggle850

    I predict the same level of success as Friis' other project

    No, not Skype, Joost:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joost

    If they do get it off the ground I'll be making a cool box sized Faraday cage in the style of a humane animal trap.

  10. LDS Silver badge

    Where are the spikes, and other self-defense weapons?

    I can't see how they could survive otherwise, especially if the average moron thinks it's delivering the latest iPhone.

  11. Chris G Silver badge

    Such negative waves Dudes!

    I agree with all of you.

    I think they should be bigger and equipped with defensive mechanisms to avoid interference,

    and perhaps pieces of semi-retired cop built into them.

    'I AM DELIVERING THESE GROCERIES, DO NOT IMPEDE, YOU HAVE 20 SECONDS TO COMPLY!

  12. Hollerith 1

    Flip and twist

    Let's put it through its paces. I see a tilted ramp so it can launch itself in the air, do a roll, and land again or its wheels. Or not.

    I also see using one as a random Segway. Have a seat and go on a mystery tour.

    Or a place to park my empty coffee cup and sarnie wrapper: go, little ones, and enjoy your adventure to lands I know not where...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anybody thought about the privacy implications? I mean drones recording all round the neighbourhood sending it all back to base. Sure it's like CCTV however this is mobile and can probably get into places CCTV can't.

  14. Tom Wood

    It's as if they have never seen Robot Wars

    Just imagine all the ways one of these could get (1) stranded through it's own incompetence to deal with the hazards of a typical street (puddles, slippery leaves, dogs and their droppings, fallen branches, parked cars etc), (2) maliciously waylaid (tipped over/put on top of a bus shelter/thrown into the canal/kidnapped by local kids/troublemakers), driven off in a thief’s van, etc.

    1. Thecowking

      Re: It's as if they have never seen Robot Wars

      You're saying they need a SRiMech?

      And probably a flame thrower.

      Or we can repurpose Sir Killalot as a delivery boy. No one's going to get in his way, or at least not for long.

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Good point. That means the ice cream will be melted by the time it arrives.

    2. GBE

      Not to worry.

      Bah that's just math. No worries. It's not like servo control, routing, communications, networking, and robotics requires any knowlege of basic math.

      Marginal arithmetic aside, I see severial problems:

      1) Segways are illegal on most sidewalks in the US, so this things got little chance.

      2) A lot of suburban areas of the US don't even _have_ sidwalks.

      3) How many miles per disappearance can you get out of one of these things?

      1. FlyingPhil

        Re: Not to worry.

        Your claim that Segway Personal Transporters (PTs) are banned on most US sidewalks is not correct at all. Wherever did you get that idea?

        Rather, they are 100% legal on footpaths and urban roads in just about *every* US State for most people. And if you are disabled, they are 100% legal in 100% of States under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as a mobility device.

        Source: http://www.segway.com/support/regulatory.php

        With the bizarre continued exception of UK, Segway PTs have been legal to use in most countries around the world for quite a long time now.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "To travel 5km at 6km/h, takes more than 30 minutes.."

      I was thinking along similar lines. How many not-drones can be monitored by the meatbags base, what does each not-drone cost and how does it compare to a man with a van making a drop every 5-10 mins, dozens to 100's of drops per day.

      (Note that I'm comparing with a sensible human being who does the job properly, not the sort of driver happy to throw parcels over a fence or post a "while you were out" card while running away before you can open the door. They do exist. I'm one of the lucky ones and have always had good service from couriers.)

  16. Wupspups

    I forsee a new student collecting craze. Forget traffic cones they are so last century.

  17. Malcolm 1

    Did they not see what happened to hitchBot?

    And that wasn't even carrying valuable goods....

    hitchBot decapitated

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you have a bad day

    You could put a few bricks around one and watch what happens.

  19. PaulyV

    These things are easily scared

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLqNmMH4hsg

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It has more legs than flying drone deliveries.

    See ^

  21. Turtle

    Mast Needed

    Actually, if these things are going to cross roads, then they need to have some sort of attention-getting device rather higher of the ground than as shown in the picture. Anything that low to the ground is not going to be sufficiently visible to motorists - whether those motorists are law-abiding or merrily running red lights.

    They'll need a mast kinda like the Sinclair C5 had; see http://rk.nvg.ntnu.no/sinclair/vehicles/c5.htm

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Mast Needed

      Yeah - because motorists can't see the white lines on the road, or the cats eyes between lanes, so how will they see anything taller than that?

      1. Turtle

        @John Robson Re: Mast Needed

        "Yeah - because motorists can't see the white lines on the road, or the cats eyes between lanes, so how will they see anything taller than that?"

        I'll explain the basis for my comment, the idea of which was not pulled out of thin air.

        "The bid to sell the C5 abroad failed; the Dutch National Transport Service told Sinclair that the C5 was not suitable for Dutch roads without improvements to its braking system, the addition of more reflectors and the inclusion of the High-Vis Mast as part of the basic package. Most of the other ten countries that Sinclair inquired of demanded similar changes" and "AA (UK) suggested that the High-Vis Mast should be included as part of the standard package." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinclair_C5)

        " one of the accessories listed in the C5 brochure is a high and bright-red reflecting mast, said by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents [RoSPA] to be a 'must'. (Daily Telegraph, 11 January 1985.) The 'hi-vis mast' initially had to be purchased separately, but public pressure by the RoSPA and media eventually forced Sinclair to include it in the C5 package." (http://rk.nvg.ntnu.no/sinclair/vehicles/c5.htm)

        So you might think that masts are a stupid idea but looking at the case of the Sinclair C5, there are people who seem to be knowledgeable and who think that masts can prevent accidents. By analogy I assume that they can be effective for this road-drone. Your objections don't really seem to me to nullify the opinions of the Dutch National Transport Service, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, or the AA.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: @John Robson Mast Needed

          @ Turtle...

          I drive a recumbent most of the time, and a flag or mast makes neglibible difference to visibility to motorists.

          I dont' see many flags/masts here: Google images

          I've been commuting by 'bent for 7 years now, and my worst incident occured when I had colourful 2" wide 6' long kite streamers on a fishing whip and an 18" england flag at the driver's eye level as well as being lit up like a proverbial christmas tree. The driver looked straight at me and failed to see me...

          The issue is that motorists look for cars, not clear tarmac. That's why there are so many "SMIDSY" incidents with motorbikes, cyclists and pedestrians. If you claim you can't see this box-on-wheels then how do you avoid concrete blocks in the road?

          How do you avoid dogs?

          How do you avoid children?

          Besides which this thing would only occasionally be crossing a road, so most of the time it should be safe from motorists, except that they can't seem to keep between the kerbs - motorists in the UK kill 40-60 people a year on pavements (this even excludes crossings where the pedestrian has priority)

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Mast Needed

      It will probably be as successful as the Sinclair C5 too... although you could make videos with cute kittens riding them!

  22. Alan Sharkey

    Where do these people come from?

    It appears the designers of this service have eother never heard of common sense or live on a different planet from us normal folks.

    There are so many things wrong with this idea starting with:

    1. Either the shopping or the drone (or both) will get nicked.

    2. How is it ever going to cross the road given the levels of traffic (and the morons that drive around).

    3. Only two bags of shopping? I can nip out myself and get that.

    4. How expensive will it be? Currently, I can get a Tescos delivery for less than a fiver (and really cheap if I don't want rush hour delivery).

    5. 6km isn't very far to deliver.

    I could go on.... [But I won't]

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where do these people come from?

      1. Nick the bot and you'll be on Candid Camera.

      2. How do pedestrians do it? And again, if struck, it will forward details.

      3. In the rain without a car?

      4. What about other places?

      5. 6km can be the other side of the moon if you're forced to walk or have a handicap.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Where do these people come from?

        "3. In the rain without a car?"

        I know it's shocking, but yes, people do that. Especially poor people who only have one car to share amongst husband/wife/kids and the main earner uses it to get to work. Then, of course, there are the real paupers of society who don't even own cars! Frightening, but true!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Where do these people come from?

          "I know it's shocking, but yes, people do that."

          Only if they're absolutely desperate. I know it's an old cliche, but there is a point to avoiding going out in the rain without some kind of protection: especially in heavy rain or for prolonged periods: the rain leeches the heat out of you, starting potential hypothermia and lowering your immune resistance.

          You would think people would plan ahead and stock up on days off or sunny days when it's better to walk.

          But then going to #6, what if the nearest store is miles away and there's no mass transit runs in your area? Just ONE mile is a 30 minute walk each way, not counting stopping for cross traffic. Just imagine several miles away in pouring rain and you have trouble walking but not enough to qualify for mobility assistance.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where do these people come from?

      "3. Only two bags of shopping? I can nip out myself and get that."

      In Europe you might walk to the store ...but in the USA?

  23. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

    Re: Where do these people come from?

    How is it ever going to cross the road

    Thats easy: it just reaches up, presses the signal on the crossing and waits for the green light like any other pedestrian.

    There are only two tiny, insignificant problems: it doesn't have a robot arm and button-pushing finger OR an eye to see the "cross/don't cross" lights.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where do these people come from?

      Say what? You mean this cute lil' robot is going to pull up to a crosswalk, and then have to wait until an obliging fleshy comes along and presses the button?

      On the plus side, robots are good at being patient...

  24. Baskitcaise
    Pint

    Porta potty?

    I can see that working great round here on dole payday and the lads (Oh and Dutch lassies) have had a few, it will be going back heavier than when it set out, slightly awash at the err.. umm grills?

  25. Nya
    Coat

    Isn't it just a BigTrack but well, without the tracks?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Facepalm

      "Isn't it just a BigTrack but well, without the tracks?"

      Strange but true, BigTrackTM didn't have tracks. It had six wheels, the middle pair being the driving wheels for that spin on the spot manoeuvrability.

  26. John Tserkezis

    What about the kids riding it?

    "I wanna ride the horsie!, I wanna ride the horsie!"

  27. CJ_in_AZ

    Potential problems -- maybe flying is easier

    I have no doubt that it would work on Mars -- Curiosity and others have proven that.

    But I can think of a number of problems here on Earth that the Martian environment is free of:

    - What's it going to do when there's 20 inches of snow on the ground? (That's ~60cm for those on the wrong side of the Pond.) That's when it would be REALLY nice to have groceries delivered.

    - There are a lot of areas where there are no sidewalks. The bipedal crowd can navigate obstacles that 6 wheels cannot, and if they can only go "walking speed" on the paved road, they're gonna get run over.

    - Sure, they may be able to snap photos of people "liberating" them, but that just means that the crooks will have to use disguises, like they do now to rob banks, etc.

    - Across the street as I type this is an 8-story apartment building. It's going to need some way of pushing the button to get to, say, the 6th floor. Previous commenters have talked about a mast -- maybe it could do multiple duty, and be used to push the elevator button (or, for that matter, the door bell upon arrival, or knock on the door the way the UPS guy does at my house). I'd be inclined to make the mast retractable, though.

    Some of these problems/hazards go away for the flying delivery drones, though not all of them do.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Potential problems -- maybe flying is easier

      "What's it going to do when there's 20 inches of snow on the ground? (That's ~60cm for those on the wrong side of the Pond.) That's when it would be REALLY nice to have groceries delivered."

      Perhaps for a situation such as this you need a specialist: perhaps one that can travel atop the snow on wide tracks. It's not like a foot of snow will stop a resourceful robot designer "cold".

      "Sure, they may be able to snap photos of people "liberating" them, but that just means that the crooks will have to use disguises, like they do now to rob banks, etc."

      But geo-tagged camera shots? That means disguise or not, the crook's been geotagged, plus unless they quickly cover it bodily with an opaque, radio-reflecting cover, it's going to continue transmitting information that can be used to trace it. Not to mention there's no say on just how much it weighs. There's a chance it'll be heavy enough that a solo thief risks a hernia.

  28. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    We need more firms doing this. Then we can have some turf wars.

  29. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Cool

    Free kit and spares for BOFHs and PFYs everywhere!

  30. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    A delivery robot named Starship

    A ship named Titanic

    A Zeppelin named Hindenburg

    A car named Edsel

  31. matthew_exon

    Stuck robots

    I'm sure it will get stuck and be a disaster, but devil's advocate: If it gets stuck, so what? Page a zero-hours flesh-drone to go get it unstuck. More expensive, but without the trundle-bot you'd have had to pay the flesh-drone to go the same distance anyway. If it works, say, 90% of deliveries, you're ahead of the game.

    That of course is the same strategy used for automated check-out tills.

    Also, the wheel configuration seems very reminiscent of the various Mars rovers, so I bet NASA's got a bunch of surprisingly clever algorithms worked out. This is exactly the kind of thing that's supposed to justify all that messing around with rockets. (If it works.)

  32. Lostintranslation

    Manchester

    I look forward to seeing my first Robodelivery vehicle jacked up on bricks with with its wheels missing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Manchester

      Maybe be tough to do if the battery compartment's hardened and trying to pick it up, open the battery compartment, or damage the wheels results in a very loud alarm blaring from it (and a geo-tagged SOS sent to the warehouse and the police). You have to remember that this is a running vehicle, not a parked one. Anything you attempt to do to stop it, it can react.

  33. Matt Bridge-Wilkinson

    Awesome, courier surfing could very well be a thing in the near future!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Matt Bridge-Wilkinson

      > Awesome, courier surfing could very well be a thing in the near future!

      That does sound rather entertaining but dude, you're a little late to the party, are you living in the near past?

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