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Starship Robot Home Deliveries: HOW is This a Good Idea?

A new robot developed by one of the original founders of Skype is setting a course for the home delivery market. Starship drives autonomously to the shopper's doorway and then texts an alert message to announce its arrival.

The bot is described as “low-speed” and the general premise is this: It picks up small packages from a fulfillment hub within its radius (“a few miles,” according to its creators). Then, it self-drives using sidewalks and pavements to a customer’s suburban location.

The scheme would reduce delivery costs, in theory, although it’s unclear how the cost models would change given the requirement to create local fulfillment hubs—companies would still have to truck goods out to those warehouses. Right now though, experts say at least 28% of transportation costs are incurred during the last mile. So on paper it looks like a decent idea to boost margin.

Here’s my Slack take on it: This falls into the same category as drone deliveries—only, aside from the concern about hacking these vessels to disable their sensors and deliver the goods elsewhere—cyber-enabled larceny, basically—Starship has the added charm of being able to A) be run over and B) simply picked up and thrown in a panel van, never to be heard from again.

Oh, but they have GPS and locks! Well…so do full-sized cars, and somehow thieves still manage to steal those.

Not only does this open up a completely new and unnecessary chapter for law enforcement, but it sets the stage for inevitable cost-overruns (and higher consumer prices) stemming from what the retail industry charmingly calls “shrinkage” (theft), and the loss of the presumably not-cheap equipment of the Starship itself.

And, there’s the emotional dimension. Starships are equipped with sensors and microphones and the ability to interact with the humans they encounter. Awwww…adorbs, right? Well if the spectacular demise of hitchBOT is any indication, this is going nowhere good.

After setting out to travel the world by relying on the kindness of strangers, armed with an outstretched thumb, a smiling LED face and written instructions for random passersby, hitchBOT met a grisly end at the hands of vandals on the mean streets of Philadelphia.

Maybe Starship’s makers should think about incorporating Tasers and a weapons array. Maybe one of those boxing-glove-on-the-end-of-a-spring jobbies.

Despite the clear security hurdles, the company is testing its prototypes and hopes to launch pilot services in the UK next year, with a full commercial, literal rollout (get it—“roll out”) to follow in 2017.

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