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‘Northern delivery robot Starship can take over the mail business’

Starship, the startup company that got lots of press coverage when it revealed it wants to deliver packages with little robot buggies, is ready to challenge today’s distribution giants. It has been running experiments for over six months in Estonia and it thinks it could take over the parcel business.


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Starship really hit the headlines a few weeks ago when it showed its delivery robot. The company’s Chief Operating Officer now reveals in an interview with Swedish magazine Di Digital they had already been running experiments with the robot buggy for six months.

Starship is founded by Janus Friss and Ahti Heinla. The first co-founded file-sharing application Kazaa and Skype, while the latter was one of Skype’s developers. The company’s COO, Allan Martinson, is confident that in the future, supplies will not be managed by drones, but by Starship’s little square robots.

He says how everyone in the company has had robots as a hobby and that NASA has a competition in the US where it wants to develop robots that can operate on different planets. This made them realize such type of robot would be ideal to deliver goods.

Easier reach thanks to the Segway
The robot Starship developed can carry 9 kilograms and won’t go faster than 6.5 kilometer per hour. That’s not a problem at all. Because autonomous vehicles often have to deal with all kinds of regulations. But the Starship robot will drive on sidewalks and thus benefits from the legislation that’s already in place in many countries. “From the start we could reach out to 150 million people in multiple parts of the US and the European Union, thanks to the Segway”, Martinson says. “Perhaps Segway wasn’t a great success, but it got many countries to change their traffic laws, in a way that covers us”, he explains.

So far Starship’s robot buggy has travelled over 130 kilometers in London, Boston, New York and San Francisco. A pilot study will commence in the London borough of Greenwich in 2016. But fact is, Starship has tested the robots for quite a long time. “We’ve had them drive around in Talinn (Estonia’s capital) for half a year now. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you could run into one”, he says.

Starship is located in London and no investors are involved right now. It’s not really necessary actually, as the founders are serial entrepreneurs who’ve made significant sales of their companies. “We aren’t a traditional startup when it comes to funding. We have enough money to finance our takeoff.”

Focusing on driving down the delivery costs
An interesting thing about Starship is that it’s not trying to make something that’s particularly technically advanced. The technology used in the robots are mass-produced parts that can be found in, for example, mobile phones. The company tries to focus more on driving down the cost of delivery. The Northern startup claims they can get the cost down to 1 dollar for a delivery to a customer’s home.

“The robots are cheap to build, cheap to run and they can deliver at any time of the day”, Martinson states. This sounds like something that could easily take over the mail processing business. “What is mail processing in the future? It’s parcels. We won’t send much letters to each other. So yes, this can take over the entire mail business. If I worked at a company today that’s all about delivering mail and packages to people, I would be worried about my future.”

Lots of companies however are betting on drones. But that’s not smart, the Estonian technology entrepreneur and investor thinks. “Not for home deliveries. It’s dangerous if they fall out the sky and nobody wants hundreds of drones above him. My guess is robots on the ground are the solution.”