Starship is a robot delivery company that uses autonomous technology to have cute tiny robots deliver groceries and other items straight to your door. The company has grown significantly over the years, and it made over 3 million deliveries to this date. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at my experience using the delivery robots in the UK and discuss their impact on society.
Before we get to the details and describe the advantages and disadvantages of using such an autonomous robot delivery service, we must understand how the company works and what kind of deliveries it does daily.
What is Starship?
Starship is a delivery company that uses autonomous robots to deliver goods straight to your door. Starship’s robots operate within a three-mile radius, and they’re designed for shipping items in the last mile of the transportation journey. The goods include groceries, pizza from restaurant chains, drinks, and many other things that you can find in grocery stores at your local supermarket. The robots are driven fully autonomously and are monitored by humans when they come across certain obstacles, such as sofas that could be blocking the pathway to complete a journey. Starship makes its revenue on delivery fees and a small percentage of the total purchase.
Starship has more than 1,700 delivery robots, which operate seven days a week. The company also says that it has saved more than 400 tons of CO2 using battery power since it started running, and it’s clear that electric autonomous robots reduce the carbon footprint as fewer vehicles are on the road to make deliveries.
The pros of Starship delivery robots
The service launched in the UK in November, 2020, and I first started using it sometime in 2021 when it finally became available in my city. My first order included some fresh donuts and a sandwich, and it was amazing to see how affordable and efficient the service was. I received my order within 30-45 minutes, and the instructions and overall experience were excellent and smooth. It works like any other food delivery app. You select the shop where you want to order from, select the goods, provide the location where you want the robot to stop, and finally, pay for the items.
I can’t speak for other cities in the UK, or elsewhere, but I noticed that the robots are being used significantly more in the past few months. The pandemic has completely changed people’s habits, and we are more reliant than ever on delivery services due to the convenience factor and fast delivery times. While shops do increase the price of products on the online storefront, compared to the actual brick and mortar locations, the fact that you’re not required to leave the house to get basic goods such as fresh fruit, and other groceries makes life easier for thousands.
As more stores sign up to deliver with Starship, and the more it expands throughout cities, the more likely people will start to rely on it since it’s an efficient way to get goods delivered on time. If you’re having a party and you have to prepare to see the guests in less than an hour, you’re unlikely to want to get in the car, park up, get in the store, look for the items needed, go to the till, get back to the car, and then park up at home – because it’s time-consuming. It’s far simpler to swallow the fees and use a search box, and the app to purchase and have the groceries delivered within an hour.
Fun fact, Starship says these are the most common items it delivered to its customers:
- 105,000 bottles of milk
- 63,000 pizzas
- 43,000 coffees
- 40,000 bananas
The cons of Starship delivery robots
Robots taking over jobs
Starship says that jobs will not be lost due to using more autonomous delivery robots, in fact, it tells the complete opposite. It states that “Research into robots and employment show that they have the capacity to positively impact the job climate on a global scale. The report on jobs lost vs. jobs created due to automation found that automation will create more opportunities in the labour market, rather than dismantle them by roughly 10% according to the McKinsey Global Institute.” We’re still at the beginning of using such services, and we’ll have to wait and see the actual impact.
Robots & Obstacles
Some neighbors further down my road were moving and had placed a sofa on the walkway. My delivery robot then promptly stopped and was completely blocked. As an experiment, I walked up a bit closer to see if the robot could squeeze through, and it had plenty of room to get past it, but as a safety measure, it didn’t find it safe to do it on its own. After 15 minutes of waiting, I’ve contacted customer service, telling them that my robot stopped. The operator quickly took over and said to me that a sofa blocked it, and that it was now on its way again. It was a positive and smooth interaction, but it shows that these robots aren’t perfect, and still require human interaction on rare occasions like this.
My experience with customer service hasn’t been as smooth as my first or second deliveries. The company verifies each person before allowing them to purchase any drinks or other products requiring age verification, such as tobacco products, alcohol, and energy drinks. Energy drinks need customers to be 16 and over in the UK, and I purchased one to go along with my lunch. Starship uses Zoom to video chat with people, and occasionally asks users to show their ID to verify they meet the age requirements by law.
When I received the Zoom invitation, the room would load continuously, and it wouldn’t let me communicate with the operator. My order was valued at around £5, or roughly $6.50. After trying to get on the call for 15 minutes, I contacted customer service to get some help, who promptly ignored my issue and kept asking that I join the link. I tried to cancel, but since Starship was unable to verify my age in a reasonable amount of time, it canceled the order, so I attempted to try again; after all, the second time’s the charm, and issues can happen to any company.
I experienced the same issue the second time, and asked the support team to provide a new link, but sadly they refused. The app then told me that it’d charge me for the total amount, which made me furious as the issue wasn’t on my end – I even tried using the link on my computer. When I challenged the move, I was told that the customer service had no control over refunds. I was then told to get in touch with the company directly by email.
I eventually contacted the company and explained the situation, and managed to get refunded for the full amount that I was charged. Since then, I avoided using the service, since it had no room for error, and it would blame any issues on its customers, which is a terrible practice. Fortunately, I had explained my issue in plenty of detail, and there was proof of me attempting to fix the problem, but the fact that it took so long and so many steps to resolve it put me off from using the service again.
Hiccups like this could happen to anyone, and it’s worth mentioning that this incident occurred last year. I am unaware if Starship still has such policies about refunds. Your experience may vary, but be sure to keep an eye out for products that require age verification.
Is Starship the future?
In some ways, yes, it is. Amazon invested tens of millions into its drone delivery service, but drones are far more dangerous and require other legislation to operate. Drones can crash and land on someone’s head, causing more injuries than a land robot. In the movie_Ready Player One_, drones deliver everything from pizzas to other essentials and even carry out surveillance. I think a future where we have land and air delivery robots to carry items from point A to B is a real possibility, and it already works on land; we just need to find a way to make it safe to use in the air.
Several startups like Starship aim to reinvent the way goods are transported in the last mile, but Starship has been the most successful one to this date. The company is rapidly growing and expanding to become available in more cities and regions worldwide. As we see the competition join the race, these services will become more efficient and affordable, and I look forward to trying out other solutions.