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It’s all ‘app-ening’ as robots deliver Co-op order

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A trial of food delivery robots in Cambridgeshire could soon be expanded after receiving a thumbs up from shoppers.

Cambridgeshire County Council and Starship Technologies began a trial on 17 May which allowed more than 12,000 residents in Cambourne to order groceries from their local Co-op store.

And the overwhelmingly positive feedback has convinced both parties to seek to expand the service to Cherry Hinton, Romsey and Queen Ediths divisions in Cambridge, with a final decision to be made by the council’s Highways and Transport Committee at its meeting on 4 October.

Ahead of the meeting, Starship will be carrying out feasibility work in the area to make sure it will be a viable location, particularly because of the narrow streets and pavement parking.

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Starship is also considering extending the trial to the Longstanton/Northstowe area to see how the service can integrate in a new community.

As of September, the autonomous robots have carried out nearly 12,000 deliveries in Cambourne with 5,735 people having downloaded the Starship app.

A customer survey from Starship following the first month of operation has shown huge support for the robots, with 97.2% positive with the service and 98.4% saying they would recommend the delivery robots to their friends.

Other benefits include: environmental (with people using a car less often), time saving and a reduction in food waste. The survey also showed a reduction of 7,798 miles driven by vehicles in the first month which led to a 1,670kg reduction in CO2 emissions.

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The council also carried out a survey between 1 August and 12 September which showed nearly 95% of respondents were either supportive or very supportive of the trial. The vast majority of people taking part in the survey (around four-fifths) had used the food delivery robots with widespread support for expanding the trial further.

Cllr Alex Beckett, chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways and Transport Committee, said: “Surveys and engagement on social media have shown the service is immensely popular and is delivering tangible benefits including a reduction in short car journeys, which is good for the environment.

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“It is encouraging Starship wishes to expand the trial which would bring these benefits to thousands more residents in the county. To see if this is viable in South East Cambridge they will be carrying out tests in the coming weeks, so if you see the tiny robots on the ground you will know why!”

Starship, which was created by the co-founders of communications system Skype in 2014, currently operates a fully commercial service in six countries around the world, including in Milton Keynes and Northampton.

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The Cambridgeshire pilot allows residents living in Lower and Upper Cambourne to order deliveries through the Starship food delivery app which are selected from the Co-op store at 29 Mosquito Road. The groceries are then delivered in one hour or less.

Cambourne residents can schedule their delivery and watch in real-time via an interactive map as the robot makes its journey to them.

Once the robot arrives they receive an alert and can meet and unlock it through the app.

The robots, which are powered by zero carbon electricity, are lightweight and travel at the speed of a pedestrian (no faster than 4mph).

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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.

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 environment benefits compared to people driving to a store.

The agenda for the Highways and Transport Committee meeting can be viewed here. The meeting will also be live-streamed on the council’s YouTube page.

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