Being the first to accomplish something shows the rest of the world the opportunities and challenges presented by a new frontier. For Virginia, being the first state to legalize delivery robots probably has many small businesses questioning how they are going to capitalize on it, as well as the challenges this technology will bring.
The delivery robot that is going to be used was created by Starship Technologies, a company founded by Skype co-founders, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. The potential of this robot has caught the attention of many VCs, and to date the company has raised $17.2 million in an initial round of funding.
Described as a ground drone, the six wheel robot runs at 4 mph and has cameras and sensors to find its way on its delivery runs. And the robot has a two to three mile delivery radius. The unit can hold up to 22 pounds of shopping bags or food from restaurants. And once it gets to its destination, the customer can unlock it with a smartphone app and get their delivery.
Two bills, one in the House, HB2016, and another in the Senate, SB1207, are expected to make Virginia first in permitting the use of delivery robots. And if all goes well, Virginians will soon have their groceries, food and other items delivered in this way.
The Impact Now that Robot Deliveries Were Approved in Virginia
If the technology is viable, it has a lot of upside for small businesses. Imagine not having to pay for a car, or the driver, maintenance, insurance and the other associated costs that go along with it for your deliveries. The cost saving potential is huge, but this is still new technology.
The challenges, of course, are many. The company says the robots have already logged over 16,000 miles and been tested in 16 countries and 59 cities around the world. However, real-world deployments always seem to throw some unforeseen curve balls. Some of the more obvious ones include, actual customer demand, theft, malfunction, canceled orders and other issues the new technology will need to surmount.
Starship Technologies is testing its robots in Redwood City, California, with delivery services DoorDash, and Postmates in Washington D.C., and on the legislative side Idaho and Florida are proposing similar laws to the one in Virginia.