Monday, 1 july 2019 | Redacción CEU
A few weeks ago, we witnessed the humiliating treatment that a delivery robot received when some operators wanted to check to what extent it was able to continue its mission in extreme situations. The workers who were responsible for this task knew that robots are not able to feel or experience suffering. That fact encouraged them not to show any mercy: they kicked it, hit it with different objects, threw balls to it,... As could be expected, the recording became viral. However, a short time later, an extended version of the video appeared. In it, we could see how the robot, which was sick of this treatment, took revenge. Everything about the robot was fake, but many users fell for it. Why did they believe this? Among other reasons, because, for a long time, large technology companies have been working on the design of robots that are able to meet the demands of the new e-commerce model. Do we know who these robots are? To prevent you from falling into the trap again, today, in this blog's article, we offer a summary of who are the main delivery robots of the market.
They do not rest, do not have a salary, do not sleep and, surprisingly, they do not complain. These robots look like the perfect employees, but to what extent can they imitate our behavior? What we can be sure about is that they lack empathy and creativity, because, although artificial intelligence helps them to look more and more human, they still cannot replace us in these aspects. On the other hand, there are many questions that arise: Will they work for us or will they leave us without work? What tasks will they be able to perform? To what extent will our lives improve? We are not ready to answer these questions yet, but it is clear that, in the coming decades, we will witness a deep transformation of our environment, and robots will play a fundamental role in it.
The dizzying technological advance makes what was impossible yesterday become unsurprising today. For example, in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Estonia, delivery robots are already making their first deliveries. In particular, we refer to the robots of the company Starship, which, rather than androids, look like autonomous rolling boxes. These robots can transport between 10 and 20 kilos, cover a range of six kilometers and work with an electric battery. Users request this delivery service through an application. When the robots receive their orders, they go to the store and the shop assistants put the orders into them. These robots are able to interpret the space that surrounds them and go to the destination places. Besides, they are monitored by professionals who, in case it is necessary, can take their control.
One of the companies that has always bet hard on this technology is Amazon. Its first and most popular proposal was based on a system of delivery drones. This is a project that is still in progress –in fact, Amazon has just presented a new drone model–, but it has not managed to take off yet, due to logistical and regulatory issues. However, this is not the only design with which the company plans to solve the last mile problem. The firm is testing a model named Scout in Washington. It is a delivery robot with a design which is similar to that of Starship –a kind of rolling box–. At the moment, these robots are accompanied by human supervisors who are responsible for checking their proper functioning.
Fedex also has its own model, Sameday Bot. What most attracts the attention of this robot is that it has been designed in order to overcome obstacles such as potholes and small stairs and work in unfavorable conditions such as light rain or temperatures above 35 degrees. This robot, which can bear up to 45 kilos, can also emit signals to the pedestrians and drivers it finds in its way. In this case, the place that was chosen to carry out the tests is Memphis. It is the place where the company's headquarters is located.
Wing, the drone subsidiary company of Google, was the first firm get certified from the US FAA to deliver products by means of drones in the United States. A few months ago, the company managed to become the first commercial service in the world through the use of drones. This service is available in Australia, after 18 months of testing and more than 30,000 shipments. These drones have an autonomy of approximately 20 kilometers and can distribute packages of 1.5 kilograms. To make the delivery, they do not need to descend. They can unload the cargo thanks to an extensible cable. The most curious thing about this initiative is that, to a certain extent, it fosters local commerce, since it serves as a distribution system service for the establishments that are located nearby in the area. The next challenge for the company is to work on the design of quieter drones so that they do not disturb the neighbors.
We cannot finish this brief review about the main messenger robots of the market without mentioning one of the last projects which was presented. We are talking about the biped android designed by Ford and the startup Agility Robotic. Digit is a robot that can be folded and moved to the delivery destination inside the trunk of an autonomous car. When it comes to reaching the door of the recipient's house, the robot takes as a reference the location of the vehicle. One of the advantages that this robot has is that it can be recharged in the car. It is a model that is similar to the one proposed by Continental –a project that also combines autonomous vehicles and bots– and which, like Digit, is still in a conceptual phase.
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