Postmates tests sidewalk delivery robot in the streets of San Francisco

Postmates, an on-demand delivery service, is set to release its sidewalk delivery robots in the streets of San Francisco after securing a permit from the city.

The delivery service has grown popular among consumers since its operations started in 2017 and gained traction from big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Furthermore, Postmates have partnered with organizations and institutions such as the Los Angeles Dodgers to become their official online delivery arm.

With the delivery service working with San Francisco supervisor Norman Yee and labor and advocacy groups, it is set to bring its service to another level by bringing delivery robots on the streets.

According to San Francisco Public Works, the permits are active for 180 days and authorize the testing of up to three autonomous delivery devices.

In light of this news, San Francisco becomes one of the first cities to formally approve the testing of delivery robots in public spaces, all of which under a new pilot program.

“We’ve been eager to work directly with cities to seek a collaborative and inclusive approach to robotic deployment that respects our public rights of way, includes community input, and allows cities to develop thoughtful regulatory regimes,” a representative of Postmates said.

Postmates semi-autonomous sidewalk rover, Serve, was first unveiled in December. Using Postmates’ Socially-Aware-Navigation system, the shopping-cart-size units can carry 50 pounds for up to 25 miles after one charge.

For safety measures, Postmates has a human pilot remotely monitoring the Serve fleets, and each rover has a “Help” button, touchscreen, and video chat display for customers or passers-by to use if necessary.

In charge of the technicalities and software that helped create Serve was a formal Apple employee, Ken Kocienda.

“We are spending a lot of time going in, and refining and inventing new ways that Serve can communicate,” Kocienda told in an interview.

Kocienda was pointing out that the latest version of its Serve urban-delivery robots is now equipped with laser lidar sensors from Ouster to help ensure they avoid bumping into pedestrians and safely navigate sidewalk hazards while making their rounds. 

Approximately, Ouster’s 64-beam OSI sensor sells for $12,000 each, but it was not disclosed how many was sold to Postmates’ Serve robots.

“Serve is exactly the kind of application that benefits from the OS1 lidar’s small, lightweight, durable and power-efficient design,” said Angus Pacala, Ouster’s co-founder, and CEO.

Source: Postmates

Other than the technicalities covered by Serve, Postmates is also looking to brand the sidewalk delivery robot to become a pleasing and accepted device in city streets.

Mainly, the colorful exterior and two big “eyes” that communicate its intentions, are meant to attract positive reactions not only for Postmates customers but also for people that see it rolling down the streets.

“We want to make it socially intelligent. We want people, when they see Serve going down the street, to smile at it and to be happy to see it there,” says Kocienda.

The on-demand delivery service has employed the assistance of San Francisco-based New Deal Design (NDD) to come up with how the robot should look.

Serve was meant to be loved and accepted into our urban environment with minimal friction,” New Deal Design founder Gadi Amit told Dezeen.

“In general, robots are behaving in ways people are not accustomed to,” said Amit. “They are also encroaching on personal and public spaces and disrupting societal norms, such as giving right of way on sidewalks and so on.”

In return, Postmates and NDD hope that if Serve can play the part of being cute and interesting enough, people will be more keen to accept it in public spaces or become less apprehensive about how technology is becoming more and more present in everyday scenarios.

Postmates is expected to go public later this year in its initial public offering. The business filed confidentially for its offering in February after lining up a $100 million pre-IPO financing that valued the company at $1.85 billion.

At the same time, Postmates is said to be exploring an M&A exit, according to Recode, which recently wrote that Postmates had discussed a merger with DoorDash, another top food delivery provider.

Postmates is backed by Tiger Global, BlackRock, Spark Capital, Uncork Capital, Founders Fund, Slow Ventures, and others.

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