The first practical drone delivery – one that is already legal and can be used on a broad scale – won’t be flying to your door, despite the name. The Starship Technologies robot is six wheeled sidewalk drone.
Starship, founded and funded by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, the brains behind communications giant Skype, calls the drone a “personal courier.” The drone is designed to roll along the sidewalk and deliver small parcels in 15 – 30 minutes; covering a 2 -3 mile radius. At about knee-high, they travel at about 4 mph. Sensors and cameras provide sense-and-avoid technology, allowing the drones to avoid obstacles in their path. When the robot arrives at the customer’s house, a button on the app will open it, preventing theft along the route.
Unlike flying drones, these robots are now legal to operate in several states. Virginia, the first to specifically allow sidewalk drones, has just passed SB1207 – effective July 1 – which states that the drones will not be classed as vehicles but will be allowed on sidewalks, paths, and crosswalks. Drones must weigh less than 50 pounds and speed must be limited to 10 mph or slower; drones must be monitored remotely by drone operators.
Starship and San Francisco-based food delivery service DoorDash have already signed an agreement for a pilot program: DoorDash will use the personal couriers to deliver food in Redwood City; delivery service Postmates will use the couriers in Washington, D.C.
“With DoorDash’s goal of building the local logistics layer for every city, we have a clear shared passion with Starship for revolutionizing last mile delivery,” said Stanley Tang, DoorDash’s co-founder and chief product officer. “By adding robots as a complement to the tens of thousands of Dashers who use the DoorDash platform, we’ll be able to better delight customers with faster, more convenient deliveries.”
While Starship’s sidewalk drones aren’t the super fast flying drone delivery that companies like Amazon hope for, it may be a step in the right direction. As consumers become accustomed to seeing unmanned vehicles in their neighborhoods – and states get used to writing laws to accommodate them – flying drones may not seem like such a big step after all.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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