Santa Claus could soon have some extra help delivering presents, with a fleet of small self-driving delivery robots gearing up to be tested on the streets of London. Matthew Stock reports.
It's a busy time of year for Santa Claus, and getting presents delivered on time isn't easy. But this self-driving delivery robot could be the little helper that Santa - and the rest of us - have been waiting for. Developers Starship Technologies say it puts the customer in control of when they get their package delivered. (SOUNDBITE) (English) AHTI HEINLA, CEO AT STARSHIP TECHNOLOGIES, SAYING: "When you place your order online, as you do right now, but instead of getting the delivery by somebody coming up to your door and knocking on your door, you would get it by a robot." The prototype 'droid' can carry the equivalent of two bags of shopping. Orders will be delivered to a designated hub or retail outlet, before being loaded into one of the robots for the final delivery. Customers can choose from a selection of precise slots - meaning you can pick a delivery window of just ten minutes. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PETE, PASSER BY, SAYING: "I think it's the thing of the future. In decades to come you're going to see these sorts of things buzzing around the streets or up in the air. It's the start of the way ahead, I think.... For someone like me who leaves Christmas shopping until the last minute it would certainly be handy for getting it next day." (SOUNDBITE) (English) JAKE, PASSER BY, SAYING: "I'm very impressed. It's small, it looks safe, looks futuristic. Very clever idea, I think." The electric robot is eco-friendly and fitted with navigation and obstacle avoidance software. Starship says it will drive autonomously 99 percent of the time, but is overseen by human operators who can take control if needed. For security - it has nine internet-connected cameras, a loudspeaker and microphone. The parcel compartment is locked and can only be opened by the customer's smartphone. Companies including Amazon are pioneering deliveries via aerial drone, such as this prototype. But Starship says airborne drones aren't a popular idea. (SOUNDBITE) (English) AHTI HEINLA, CEO AT STARSHIP TECHNOLOGIES, SAYING: "People don't like other machines flying over their backyard where their children are playing. So there's huge social acceptance problems with the robots, with the robots that are flying. But not so much for the robots that are land-based, and safe, and look cute." Starship Technologies will launch real-life trials of the robots in London and some U.S. cities in Spring 2016. So Santa could soon be spend less time worrying about delivering presents... and more time on the sherry and mince pies.