Starship boosts Co-op enterprise for autonomous robots

  • September 28, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

The Co-op convenience store chain plans to take its fleet of autonomous delivery robots in the UK up to 500 in a contract with California-based Starship Technologies.

This will see it launch robotic delivery services in five new towns and cities.

The convenience retailer – the first major UK supermarket to use robots for home delivery – in partnership with Starship will increase the robot fleet by over 300 by the end of the year, increasing Co-op’s offer of on-demand convenience and cutting carbon emissions on last kilometre deliveries.

The robots are expected to be making deliveries in five new towns and cities, with Cambridgeshire the next location after Co-op and Starship first launched the emission-free autonomous delivery service in Milton Keynes in 2018 and Northampton in 2020. Shoppers can choose from over 3000 grocery items, which are delivered in as little as 20 minutes through the Starship Food Delivery app.

Recent research has shown that close to 70% of Starship’s customers forgo driving to a store or receiving a delivery from a fuel powered vehicle in favour of robot delivery, complementing Co-op’s pledge to ensure all of its home deliveries are zero emission by 2025.

“Our focus is to continue to innovate and look for new and better ways to do business in our communities while expanding access to our products and services,” said Chris Conway, head of ecommerce at Co-op. “In addition to offering quality and value quickly, easily and conveniently, we need to do this sustainably and, by working collaboratively with Starship and other partners with shared values, we can ensure we further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, something which is essential if we are to have a healthy and sustainable natural environment to pass on to future generations.”

Co-op’s online offer has rolled-out at pace since the launch of its own online shop less than three years ago. Through its own vehicles or with partners, almost four-fifths (2000) of its stores in towns, cities and villages across the UK will be in the catchment area for either online home delivery or click and collect by the end of 2021. All orders are picked fresh from Co-op stores in the community, which act as micro-distribution hubs locally so the High Street benefits from any increase in online demand. 

Earlier this year, Co-op announced a ten-point climate plan setting out its blueprint to achieve net zero for its direct and indirect carbon emissions by 2040. This includes offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions of Co-op products and services, including its food and drink, to achieve carbon neutral status by 2025. It already sources 100% renewable electricity to run all its food stores, funeral homes and offices.

“We are pleased to extend our hugely successful collaboration with Co-op and bring the benefits of autonomous delivery to thousands more people across the UK,” said Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Starship Technologies. “More and more people are realising that it doesn’t make sense to drive to the store for top-up groceries when the hassle can be removed through autonomous, contactless and environmentally friendly delivery. Ultimately, we want to save time and money for our customers, and make their lives easier in a sustainable way.” 

Starship’s service is now available to more than one million people around the world on a daily basis. The company has quadrupled deliveries since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and its zero-emission robots have completed more than 1.6 million commercial deliveries globally, more than any other autonomous delivery provider.

Starship operates commercially on a daily basis around the world. Its robots have travelled millions of kilometres and make more than 80,000 road crossings every day. Users can access the service via the Starship Food Delivery app, which is available for download on iOS and Android. To get started, users choose from a range of their favourite food or drink items, then drop a pin where they want their delivery to be sent. They can then watch as the robot makes its journey to them, via an interactive map. Once the robot arrives, they receive an alert, and can then meet and unlock it through the app.

The robots are designed to deliver food, groceries and packages locally in minutes. They drive autonomously but are monitored by humans who can take control at any time.

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