Autonomous delivery bots to roll into town

By Tamara Steiner on July 17, 2017

The City Council signed off last week on a year-long pilot program with Starship Technologies to begin using 12 driverless robots to deliver groceries, food and small parcels in a 4-mile radius of downtown.

The Personal Delivery Devices are already in use in Washington D.C., the UK and several European cities with test centers closer to home in Sunnyvale, Redwood City and San Carlos.

“This is the heart of Silicon Valley, the technology hub, and I’m excited about Concord being a part of that,” said Mayor Laura Hoffmeister.

“Starships’s decision to seek Concord as a pilot city…shows that Concord is friendly to new business concepts and supports Concord’s position as a leader in autonomous technology development,” said Economic Development Specialist Pedro Garcia in his staff report.

The PDD made its first public appearance in Concord at the July 11 council meeting, where it rolled down the center aisle to deliver the gavel to mayor Laura Hoffmeister.

“What’s its name,” she asked Garcia, who said it didn’t have one.

Council member Ron Leone took up the challenge and quickly came up with the acronym SPOT, for “special personal operating transport,” he said with a grin.

SPOT weighs 25 lbs and can travel up to 4 mph on six wheels using sidewalks and crosswalks on routes pre-mapped by the nine on-board cameras. When an order is placed with a participating business, SPOT is dispatched from its docking station to pick up the order. Customers pay online and can track the order with their smart phones. SPOT will send a text when it rolls up to its destination.
During the pilot project, the robots will have a “human handler” at all times, either accompanying them on deliveries or monitoring remotely. Eventually, SPOT will “learn” the city, traffic patterns and obstacles and will operate with only remote monitoring.

The robots are equipped with alarms and sirens. If a thief tries to grab one, a siren will sound and police will track it within minutes.

Starship boasts a 100 percent safety track record, said company spokesman David Catania. “In 40,000 miles traveled and 7 million human interactions in 73 countries, we’ve not had a single issue of foul play.”

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