Parcel Robots On Trial In London

Hermes, the courier company, is to operate a trial scheme of autonomous, parcel collection robots on the streets of Southwark in London.

Collection Nearby Using Secure Compartment

Each of the six-wheeled robots will collect a parcel of up to a maximum 10kg in weight from an address within a two-mile radius of the control centre, and will be allocated a 30 minute time slot to complete the collection in. The robots are able to negotiate urban paved areas at speeds of up to 4mph.

Secure Compartment

The robots each have a secure compartment that the parcel is stored in during the journey, and the parcel’s recipient at the other end can open the compartment by entering an access code that has been texted to their smart-phone.

Starship Robots Just The Beginning

The robots being used in the trial have been developed by Starship Technologies, who are the same company that supplied robots for a similar pilot scheme (only for Domino’s Pizza deliveries instead of parcel collections) in the city of Hamburg in Germany earlier this year.

Starship Technologies was launched in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus. The company is one of several new ‘professional service robotics’ companies, along with Marble and Boston Dynamics.

International Federation for Robotics (IFR) forecasts estimate that between 2016 and 2019, logistics businesses will have started using at least 175,000 robots to provide their services. This is a very big number and a bold forecast, particularly when you consider that UPS’s entire global fleet of trucks numbers 100,000.

What Are They Like?

The wheeled, ground-based robots taking part in the London trial are relatively small at only 55cm (22in) tall and 70cm (28in) long. They weigh 18kg (40lb).


Although Hermes and Starship plan to keep each robot under close supervision by human operators using on-board cameras, the relatively small size of the robots, and the fact that they are unfamiliar and unexpected have prompted some people to point out the hazard that they could cause to pedestrians and road users.

If more companies opt for robot delivery and collection units and if (as Starship have reportedly said) that one operator could in future control up to 100 robots (to increase cost effectiveness), the pavements could become very busy with potential trip-hazards.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If your business operates regular deliveries and collections of small but relatively high-value products / items over short distances e.g. 2 miles, autonomous robots may (if the price was right) sound like a possible innovative logistics solution for the not-too-distant future. If, as the predictions state, there is wide-scale adoption of these robots by businesses and operators are able to safely control multiple robots, the cost of the technology, hardware and labour may fall over time to the point where they are a cost effective, relatively safe and environmentally friendly option.

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