Food delivery robots will be taking to the streets of Cambridge from Thursday 17 November, as part of a new pilot scheme by Starship Technologies, in partnership with the Co-op and enabled by Cambridgeshire County Council.
The collaboration will be available to 12,200 households within the Cherry Hinton, Queen Edith, parts of Romsey and Coleridge areas of Cambridge. Orders can be made through the Starship food delivery app, which is available for download on iOS and Android, with groceries picked fresh in local Co-op stores on Perne Road and Cherry Hinton Road.
Cambridge residents can order their delivery to arrive in under an hour and watch the robot travel in real-time via an interactive map. Once the robot arrives, residents receive an alert and can meet and unlock it through the app.
Since May 2022, Starship’s robots have carried out many thousands of deliveries in Cambourne alone, with more and more people are using the service to save time and fit shopping around their busy lives.
Introducing the robots to Cambourne has resulted in an estimated 7,798 miles of car journeys saved in the first month and a 1,670kg reduction in CO2 emissions. Reception has been positive, with 98% of people saying they would recommend the delivery robots to their friends.
This means that 8,000 residents in 3,000 homes will benefit from quick deliveries of products from their local Co-op, with customers receiving groceries from a fleet of Starship's autonomous robots which will bring the items to their doorsteps.
The project is part of the council’s wide-ranging environmental agenda as it will help to reduce short car journeys and improve air quality, with an average delivery for a Starship robot consuming as little energy as boiling a kettle to make just one cup of tea.
Who can take part
The Cambridgeshire trial is available to residents living in
- Lower and Upper Cambourne who are able to order deliveries from the Co-op store at 29 Mosquito Road in Upper Cambourne
- Cherry Hinton, Queen Edith, parts of Romsey and Coleridge areas of Cambridge who are able to order deliveries from local Co-op stores on Perne Road and Cherry Hinton Road.
Map showing who is eligible to book deliveries in Lower and Upper Cambourne.
Map showing who is eligible to book deliveries in Cherry Hinton, Queen Edith, parts of Romsey and Coleridge areas of Cambridge
Who are Starship
Starship currently operates in many countries around the world, including across university campuses in America and in Milton Keynes and Northampton in England.
The company was created by the co-founders of communications system Skype in 2014 and, since launching commercial deliveries in 2018, Starship's robots have travelled more than 4 million miles and completed more than 3.5 million deliveries to customers.
The robots are battery powered, lightweight and travel at the speed of a pedestrian (no faster than 4mph). They use a combination of sensors, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to travel on pavements and navigate around any obstacles, while computer vision-based navigation helps them map their environment to the nearest inch. When the robots recognise a wheelchair user they stop at a safe distance and give way if necessary. If the robot is still unsure, they will be taken over remotely by a human operator who can communicate with the pedestrian or wheelchair user.
An average delivery for a Starship robot consumes as little energy as boiling a kettle to make just one cup of tea, thereby delivering tangible environmental benefits compared to driving to a store.
Starship's robots, which are powered by zero carbon electricity, are advanced autonomous devices that can carry items over short distances without needing a driver. Orders are made through the Starship food delivery app, which is available for download on iOS and Android, with groceries picked fresh in local Co-op stores and delivered quickly and conveniently in as little as one hour or less.
Frequently asked questions
The robots are low speed and low weight (they weigh around 36kg). They are programmed to travel at no more than 4mph, but their average speed is slightly lower at 3.7mph (which is the average walking speed of a pedestrian).
The robots have numerous cameras, a sensor suite, radar and GPS which means they automatically avoid any object in their path and can tell how quickly objects around them are moving. Moreover, they’re programmed to be risk averse - their main objective if there is anything near them is to slow down and move out of the way.
Starship has consulted with charities and experts around accessibility and disability, both in the US and the UK.
Its deliveries help those with restricted mobility, the elderly and wheelchair users who find it more difficult to get to the shops.
The robots use computer vision to identify objects. When the robots recognise a wheelchair user they stop at a safe distance and give way if necessary, reversing or pulling over to the side. The robots can communicate their intention directly with the wheelchair user via speakers and they frequently climb up curbs to make way for oncoming pedestrians or wheelchair users.
The robots also stop when a person gets too close and can emit a high-pitched beep to signal their presence.
If a robot comes to an unscheduled stop, Starship's system is very quickly notified and a human operator will quickly be able to diagnose the problem. If the robot is stuck or broken, a local field assistant will attend the site as soon as possible to fix or retrieve the robot.
All of the robots have cameras, are GPS tracked and only the customer can open the very securely fitted lid. The robots usually contain relatively low value shopping so there is little incentive to steal them and Starship would be able to track them wherever they went. As an added disincentive, the robot has an inbuilt siren that is very loud and is activated if it is unexpectedly lifted off the ground.
If the trial is deemed to be a success then Starship hopes to increase the service area in Cambridgeshire.