Co-op’s enterprising use of Starship robots

  • July 18, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

California-based Starship Technologies is bringing autonomous grocery delivery to residents in Wellingborough, Higham Ferrers and Rushden in England.

The provider of autonomous delivery services has partnered with North Northamptonshire Council and the Co-op retail chain to bring the benefits of the service, which started last week.

The move follows a scheme that has been running in Northampton since November 2020. The partnership will see up to 45,000 residents across 33,000 households in Wellingborough, Rushden and Higham Ferrers able to access on-demand grocery delivery from four Co-op stores in Olympic Way, Farm Road off Northern Way, Grangeway and Higham Ferrers.

Starship’s robots have become a firm fixture across local neighbourhoods in Northampton for the past 18 months, with the company also operating in Milton Keynes and Cambourne, as well as multiple university campuses in America and elsewhere in Europe. Starship was created by the co-founders of Skype in 2014.

Since launching commercial deliveries in 2018, Starship’s robots have travelled more than 6.4 million kilometres and safely completed more than 3.5 million deliveries. Around the world, the robots make 140,000 road crossings every day, equivalent to three road crossings every second.

“I am delighted that Starship’s rather cute delivery robots will be coming to North Northamptonshire,” said councillor Graham Lawman, North Northamptonshire Council’s executive member for highways, travel and assets. “This partnership between us, Starship and Co-op is extremely exciting and I know it will make a real difference to people’s lives, providing quick and easy deliveries to residents of Wellingborough, Higham Ferrers and Rushden. The council is committed to the environment and this new service is another innovation that we are supporting to help provide a clean and green alternative to the private car for day-to-day convenience shopping, helping to reduce emissions. They will be really useful for those without a car or unable to get out for those urgent items.”

Andrew Curtis, UK operations manager at Starship Technologies, added: “We have had very positive feedback from local communities in Northampton since starting operations there in November 2020, and today is an exciting day for Starship as we offer the benefits of autonomous grocery delivery to 33,000 more households across Northamptonshire. Our robots offer an environmentally friendly and convenient way of helping people with their top up shopping and we’re confident the service will be similarly well received in North Northants.”

Starship’s robots are powered by zero carbon electricity, with an average delivery for a Starship robot consuming as little energy as boiling a kettle to make one cup of tea. Orders are made through the Starship food delivery app, which is available for download on iOS and Android, with groceries picked fresh in local Co-op stores and delivered quickly and conveniently in one hour or less.

“Co-op is committed to exploring new and innovative ways to increase access to its products and services,” said Chris Conway, ecommerce director at Co-op. “Our members and customers lead busy lives and ease, speed and convenience are at the heart of our approach. We are delighted to be able to extend the service in the area. As a convenience retailer, the ability to come into stores will always be important to customers, but we also know that shoppers want flexible and convenient options online, and so we are focused on providing what our customers want and need, however and wherever they choose to shop with us.”

North Northants residents will be able to choose from a range of grocery items, schedule their delivery, then drop a pin where they want their delivery to be sent. They can 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 are lightweight and travel at the speed of a pedestrian, no faster than 6.4kmph. They use a combination of sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning to travel on pavements and navigate around obstacles, while computer vision-based navigation helps them map their environment to the nearest centimetre.

Starship Technologies was founded by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis (Skype chief architect and co-founder) and Alastair Westgarth is the CEO.