Co-op customers in Milton Keynes can now have their groceries delivered by robot. The Monkston branch has been trialling unaccompanied robot delivery for the past four weeks, promoting the service using targetted local social media marketing. Between 10-15 robots are being used and around 1,000 orders have been dispatched since the project went live a month ago.
Robots "understand" their environment
The robots travel at about 4mph and can deliver up to 10kg of shopping in under an hour. The robots weigh about 25kg, have six wheels and nine cameras and are equipped with a sophisticated sensor suite including radars, computer vision and ultrasonic sensors. This allows them to understand their environment, enabling them to avoid obstructions and cross roads on their own, for example. The Monkston store chosen for the trial is close to the premises of Starship Technologies, developers of the robots.
How does the service work?
- Customers place their order via an iPhone app developed by Starship. Around 200 products can be ordered, excluding alcohol, cigarettes and frozen items. The customer pays the usual in-store prices plus a £1 delivery fee.
- The order is picked and paid for by a human Starship employee (at the usual Co-op prices) who puts them into the robot.
- The robot sets off on its unaccompanied journey to the customer. The customer can see where the robot is using the app.
- Upon reaching its destination, the customer uses the app to confirm arrival and unlock the lid to the compartment containing the shopping.
Is there a future for robot delivery?
Co-op is not the first retailer to test delivery by robot: Tesco also used a similar robot for one delivery last year. Just Eat has also trialled the technology to deliver takeaways in South London.
The Co-op trial has met with a positive reaction from local customers with many wanting to try it out to see how it works. There will inevitably be tweaks to make but with retailers prepared to explore new technologies to get closer to the needs of the customer we should expect to see more such activity in the future.
Hear more about Co-op’s plans for technology innovation from Chris Conway, Co-op’s head of food digital, at our Digital Commerce event on 16-17 October.
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