Starship Technologies hopes to cash in on pandemic-spurred demand for robot delivery – Times-Herald


Robots could take over the world and the pandemic could accelerate the takeover. But if you ask the folks at Starship Technologies, that’s a good thing.

Starship, headquartered in San Francisco with an engineering center in Estonia, is an autonomous robot delivery company launched in 2014 by two of Skype’s founding members.

The company’s robots are equipped with an array of sensors and cameras, and an empty hull that can be filled with groceries, meals or packages before rolling on their six wheels to deliver goods to the someone’s door.

In the United States, on cities and on college campuses, and in several other countries, the company’s robot fleet has traveled about 3.2 million miles so far, enough to complete 13 trips on the moon.

The company recently expanded a partnership with grocer The Save Mart Companies, launching a grocery delivery robot from Lucky California in Pleasanton, and attracted $100 million in private investment from international venture capital firms in last month or so.

Ryan Tuohy, Starship’s senior vice president of business development and sales, says the company’s service reduces carbon emissions, reduces local traffic congestion and will create jobs, not take them away, as Starship grows.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How has Starship evolved since its debut in 2014? Has there been a change in direction or strategy?

A: The company was founded by two of the people who founded Skype, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. Super accomplished, really brilliant people. And the early vision was so forward-looking that it hasn’t really changed. It’s about disrupting last mile delivery, which is such a big part of urban congestion and pollution, and really making delivery more accessible and lowering the cost of it.

At the time, this current state in which we find ourselves where everything comes to you immediately was not already a reality. It was really a vision of the future, and they had that vision in 2014.

Q: What are the main types of deliveries made by Starship robots, and where?

A: Our biggest categories right now are groceries, and we sell them in Europe, Estonia, the UK and the US. In the United States, we also have a presence on more than 25 college campuses, where the primary delivery is ready meals, often from campus retail brands. , like Starbucks, Subway, Panda Express.

Q: What are the benefits of this robot delivery model?

A: For the most part, deliveries made by Starship are missions that would have been carried out by the person themselves. So what we’re replacing is someone putting the kids in the car and going to the grocery store because they’re out of a few ingredients that they need at that time. By automating this we are able to do this in a way that has a minimal environmental footprint and minimal human impact.

It’s not just zero emissions, it’s also energy efficient. One charge and these robots can run for 18 hours. A Starship grocery mission in the UK uses about as much electricity as it takes to boil a kettle of water for tea.

It also helps reduce food waste. If I try to do all my shopping at once, I always overestimate how many vegetables I’m going to eat in a week. But by allowing this mid-week refill mission, you can be more sober and ensure you only get what you need.

Q: How is Starship responding to concerns that robots will take people’s jobs?

A: Deliveries that would otherwise be made by the customer, we automate these deliveries. But what isn’t automated is the picking and packing of groceries in the store. So we’re creating jobs in grocery chains for people walking up and down the aisles.

The other jobs that are created by this service are the people who maintain the robots, the robot technicians. And there are a host of related job opportunities at Starship, and there would be at any similar company, and that’s the kind of tech jobs for the future that we want to offer.

Q: How has the pandemic affected your business? Has there been more interest in Starship?

A: Absolutely the demand for deliveries has increased. I think the appreciation for the security of contactless delivery has increased, and certainly the demand from partners and consumers has increased significantly during the pandemic.

There was an opportunity… beyond what we were able to encounter at that time. The problem is, you can’t just wave a wand and magically produce 10,000 more robots.

I think we increased the delivery volume by about three or four times when the pandemic first arrived.

However, over the past couple of years, Starship has come a long way to grow, and the pandemic has done a lot to accelerate the conversations we’ve had with large-scale partners, whether they’re regional players like The Save Mart Companies in the US or national partners like Tesco and Co-Op in the UK

Q: How is this technology evolving? How has Starship grown?

A: We have made over 3 million deliveries worldwide. We make around 10,000 deliveries a day. Our global fleet has approximately 2,000 robots operating in five countries, seven days a week. The reason this all matters is the nature of this technology; it relies on experience to improve, and when it improves, it becomes more effective.

A Starship robot can operate for hours at a time and make a number of separate deliveries without any human intervention except for people loading and unloading the robots.

This autonomy allows us to scale our operations, to start partnering on a scale that is attractive to some of the largest retailers in the world.

Q: Your robots can climb sidewalks, cross streets, and overcome a host of obstacles. What if they get stuck or need help?

A: We have remote tele-operators who will monitor the whole fleet and if a robot needs help then they can ask permission from (one of our operators) who can apply their judgment to that scenario.

When a company’s technology is not very mature, it happens all the time. But now at Starship, I think we’re about 99% self-sufficient.

Q: Is there a feeling that there might be some sort of pandemic bubble? As the impact of the pandemic diminishes, could interest in the services offered by Starship diminish?

A: That’s an excellent question. But we were so far from meeting actual demand during the pandemic, so even if there was a spike, we never met it. So from our perspective, it’s just growth to come. And one of the interesting dynamics is that with an increase in hybrid working, people are spending more time at home, which means they’re more interested in on-demand grocery deliveries throughout the day. , which is great for our business.

Q: In your opinion, what potential is there for the robot market?

A: At Starship, we haven’t even scratched the surface of the demand that exists.

For us at Starship, it’s about being a subset of the delivery and returns market, more than being a subset of the robot world. Some people might prefer a robot because it’s safer; some people might prefer a robot because it’s really cool and fun. But at the end of the day, it’s a delivery that’s a must. So for us, I think about it in that context. And it turns out that our technology has matured in a way that delivers that convenience in an environmentally sustainable but also financially sustainable way that creates real jobs for real people. And it is our market in which we are developing.

Q: Do you like the look of robots?

A: I like their appearance. Their look is very, very deliberate. Robots were designed not just to be safe, but to radiate a sense of security, in a way that was non-threatening to their surroundings that they would share with humans. I think they look happy.


name: Ryan Tuhy

Age: 45

Town: San Francisco

Position: SVP Business Development, Sales and Government Relations at Starship Technologies

Education: Bachelor of Business Administration from Georgetown University, Masters from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University


Five things to know about Tuohy

1. He’s an “avid griller” who likes dry-aged steaks

2. Launched his first internet business, an interactive guide to live music scenes across the country called localmusic.com, while a college student at age 20.

3. Loves boats and traveled around the world on an ocean liner while in college in a program called Semester at Sea.

4. Considers himself a “really bad surfer”

5. Lived and worked in Australia for six years

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