On Jan. 18, 2017, people living in Washington D.C. and Redwood City, California became the first cities in the country to order food and have it delivered to their homes by robot.
Starship Technologies, a startup based in Estonia, developed six-wheeled robots that are under two feet tall, travel about two miles per hour and weigh around 40 pounds. In partnership with food delivery services Postmates and DoorDash, the robots are the first step towards automated food delivery in the U.S. The New York Times recently called Starship’s robots “a glimpse of the future.” While each robot currently requires a handler, the hope is that they will soon be able to share the sidewalks and make deliveries without supervision.
Catherine Melson, the Economic Development Manager in Redwood City, had a direct hand in bringing the robots to her city. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, the city is also home to a Starship office that opened in December 2016. Melson explains to Produce Grower what the robots offer her community.
Produce Grower: What makes Redwood City an ideal fit for this program? And how did the partnership between Redwood City and Starship Technologies, a British company based in Estonia, come to be?
Catherine Melson: Redwood City is a great fit for a new technology such as autonomous robots. Redwood City has always been a hub of innovation, and with our location as part of Silicon Valley, we have come to expect and adopt the new technologies that are generated by the great companies that locate here.
The director of San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA), Roseanne Foust, introduced us to Starship Technologies. She had met them at an event and felt that Redwood City would be a great fit for their robots.
PG: This program has been operational since December. How has the program performed to date?
CM: The city approved the program in December and Starship began deliveries in February. To date, the program has run smoothly with no issues reported.
PG: The technology is designed to deliver food directly to people’s homes. What type of food will be available for delivery?
CM: The initial deliveries will focus on items from restaurants and bakeries. When customers place their orders, they will be able to choose the robot as their means of delivery versus other delivery options that are available. Ultimately, the service can be used for groceries, other durable goods like clothing, shoes or even library books.
PG: This is a pilot program. What do you hope to accomplish with it? What would have to happen for it to be implemented long term?
CM: The initial approval was for a nine-month program to allow Starship to operate in Redwood City. We hope that the program is a success and Starship chooses to continue to operate in Redwood City. If they do choose to continue, and we have had a successful implementation, then the city will consider extending the program for another period of time or even as a long-term program.