Technology news: Robot delivery in B.C.

A robot designed by a B.C.-based company hit the streets recently, making its first home delivery of a customer’s order.

In an ongoing partnership with retailer London Drugs, InDro Robotics stepped up testing of ROLL-E 2.0 last week. Initially, the robot’s cart could be loaded up and sent to meet customers for curbside pickup.

The latest phase of the pilot project is testing its ability to make longer trips and drop off orders on people’s doorsteps.

CEO Philip Reece says the inaugural delivery in Surrey last week saw ROLL-E successfully travel a distance of several kilometres.

“It crossed over a few roads, challenged a few pavements, went up and down some curbs and finally got to its destination,” he told CTV News.

“They didn’t have to leave the house. They got a full shopping cart full of full of goods delivered to them. It’s always novel having a robot roll up to your front door to do that delivery.”

ROLL-E is operated by a human who monitors cameras and controls the movement. It’s equipped with signal lights and brake lights so passersby can get a sense of where it’s headed. Reece says a big part of the trials the company is doing is monitoring how people react to seeing the machine “trundling about” on streets and sidewalks.

“The delivery of the items is actually quite easy. Having the robot interact with the road and the pavement – all very easy. One of the things that we still have to learn and we’re gathering lots and lots of information on is: How do people interact with the robot?” Reece explains.

“It’s surprised even us who work with robots all the time how nonchalant people become about it.”

However, in situations where someone is taken aback by the robot, Reece says the human can “mic up” and explain what ROLL-E is and what it is doing.

Reece says there are plans to ramp up the capacity of this robot and that two more are being built. Ultimately, he thinks the technology will become more commonplace.

“We’re trying to gauge what it is that people are going to want. And the only way we’ll really find that is through offering the service more and more,” Reece says.

Convenience is one obvious reason people opt for home delivery – whether it’s done by a robot or a person. But Reece says using these fully electric robots has another benefit.

“It’s taking a car off the road. How many times do we rush out, we jump into the car, we zip to the store, and we pick up pint of milk or whatever, and drive all the way back. ROLL-E’s fully electric, and we could do all of those deliveries, those short hops, almost as quick but definitely a whole lot more ecologically friendly,” he says.

“There’s no carbon footprint for it. The more and more deliveries it does more and more cars we hope to take off the road.”

The company has been doing deliveries by drone in more rural and remote areas for some time. Reece says these robots are a better option for urban and suburban locales. He points to California, where robots are becoming more common, as a sign of what may be to come here in Canada.

“We’re doing it a little more Canadian. We’re making the robot a little politer and a little easier on the eye. So we’ll roll it out, just perhaps not as quick as they are down there.’

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Alissa Thibault

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