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Self-driving robot courier created by Cleveron

‘It’s like a Japanese hotel,’ was the reaction of the show host on the stage of Robotex 2018 in Tallinn as Cleveron launched its new self-driving robot courier. The autonomous cargo car is the latest invention of the Viljandi-based company that has installed nearly 1000 robotic parcel stations for Walmart in the US and is piloting small parcel terminals for private homes across Estonia.

Based on a very practical personal experience, Cleveron CEO Arno Kütt explains the idea: ‘I ordered groceries online and was very happy about saving 40 minutes of time. However, I really wanted to receive the groceries exactly at 5:15 pm after work but realised that the 2-hour delivery windows offered by the courier just didn’t work for me. If too early, I couldn’t be home to receive them, if too late, I’d be starving and angry already. There has to be a better, more flexible solution. With the individual parcel terminal, the delivery can be there just in time for me. It can arrive 1 minute or 2 hours before the requested time. This is the solution we’ve been working on.’ The biggest gain is to be expected from the combination of the home parcel terminal and the robotic courier. The client doesn’t actually need to care who will deliver the parcel or when.

Kütt says that 80% of Estonians prefer parcel stations to pick up their deliveries today and more than 80% wish the stations to be located as close to home as possible: ‘So that’s what we do – we bring the parcel stations to peoples’ homes. A client can receive the parcel at home without waiting for the courier. The courier – be it a person or a robot – can deliver the parcel any time, preferably during night time with little traffic.’

The pilot of parcel terminals for private homes is currently underway in Estonia. In the meantime, Cleveron has come up with the next phase and developed an autonomous vehicle that can deliver the parcels without any human interaction. Kütt says the original idea was to develop just the robotic arm that can actually lift and place the parcel in the terminal. Cleveron was looking for a self-driving electric car that would be able to carry more than its own weight. As this does not exist on the market, the engineers of Cleveron just developed the whole concept.

Cleveron hopes to start test-driving the robot couriers in Estonia by 2020. Interestingly, while one common topic in the discussion of self-driving cars is the ethical decision that the car might have to take when two peoples’ lives are at risk, this issue doesn’t arise with self-driving robot couriers – it’s always going to ditch the parcels rather than endanger a person. So, we might see the delivery robots on our streets much earlier than driverless cars for people.

Another issue that arises with driverless couriers is city planning – how to organise roads and pedestrian areas so that the robots can actually access the parcel terminals at the buildings?

Kütt: ‘We don’t know how all this will develop. But clearly there are new trends in urban development that will take the new technology into account. We are just testing to see where we get with it. But one thing is certain – these things will happen.’

Cleveron has been a step ahead for ten years. Now Kütt sees clearly, that time is the only non-renewable resource and wasting it is evil: ‘If technology helps us to save peoples’ time, then this is what we do. We have nearly 1000 robots – pick-up towers in Walmarts, each fitting 300 parcels. Before that the average pickup time for groceries was 17 minutes, now it takes just a few moments. If we add up all the time saved across the 1000 robots, then it reaches 10 years within just one day. That’s the benefit, that’s our product. We actually sell time, not robots.’

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