Robots Muscle in on the Gig Economy
Business + Economy

Robots Muscle in on the Gig Economy

Starship Technologies

You can forget about your teenager getting that after-school job to help pay for college. Not that supermarket delivery job, anyway. Robots are taking over thanks to Starship Technologies, a two-year-old Estonian company that developed a really cute six-wheeled buggy that looks like a pet.

The co-founders of Skype are behind the little traveler, and they’re being deployed in several European countries including the restaurant delivery service Just Eat in the U.K., according to Supermarket News. Like other companies that are turning to robots, supermarkets and restaurants could save money on the non-humans, since maintenance doesn’t come close to providing health care for a family of four.

How does it work? Through an app on your phone, of course. Order and a bot is on its way in 15 minutes. SN writes, “Because their delivery radius is so small, Starship is experimenting with sending a van filled with robots to a central neighborhood point and dispatching the fleet to a neighborhood at once.”

At a somewhat leisurely pace of about four miles an hour, these bots can’t go mano a mano with bike delivery people. But they have built-in GPS, cameras, sensors and special maps and navigate around obstacles. Like other autonomous vehicles, they know when to stop, when to turn, and when to brake. Also, a human operator is always on hand to take over the controls.

Once your bot arrives, you can release the contents by entering the special code on your app.

Don’t expect to order everything you need to cook your Thanksgiving dinner, though. The little bots can carry up to 20 pounds max – perfect for dinner for two.

And Just don’t try to order a large pie with all trimmings.  

One question:  What will Amazon (AMZN) do?  They’ve just started their own delivery service, pitched to the “gig” economy called Flex. “Make $18-$25/hr delivering packages for Amazon with your car and smartphone. Be your own boss: make great money, delivering when you want.”

Hmm. Pay humans or buy robots—what will shareholders say?