Concord Approves Pilot Program For Delivery Robots

Following a highly publicized release in the South Bay, a fleet of delivery robots will be rolling out — literally — in Concord.

The small delivery bots come courtesy of Starship Technologies, a London-based company founded by Skype creators Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. The Concord City Council approved a 12-month pilot agreement with the tech startup at Tuesday night's regular meeting, with Councilman Edi Birsan recusing himself from the vote due to a conflict of interest; he said he has a family member who works for a company that partners with Starship. 

Officially termed personal delivery devices, the robots weigh about 50 pounds and move at a glacial pace — about 4 mph — and are capable of storing up to 20 pounds of groceries inside a locked compartment. The roving bots will travel within a 4-mile delivery radius somewhere downtown, though a precise delivery zone has yet to be established. 

The delivery service, which was first introduced in Washington, D.C., is already available in Redwood City and Sunnyvale. Marble, another company pioneering delivery bots, has been testing out of San Francisco.

For the Concord rollout, Starship will be continuing with its current partnerships for food deliveries, including DoorDash, according to the staff report. In keeping with the theme of absolutely zero personal interaction, users will pay for the service with an app.

Though Starship plans to go fully autonomous after the pilot, each of the 12 robots included in the initial release will have a "human handler" who will oversee its movements from afar and watch for error. The company has assumed all liability for the devices while they travel on city roads and sidewalks — though several council members still expressed safety concerns.

“How will it hit crosswalk buttons?” asked Mayor Laura Hoffmeister.

“It doesn’t. ... It finds an alternate route,” a company representative replied, drawing laughs from people in the gallery. 

And, while discussing potential theft, it was revealed that the devices are equipped with nine cameras, an alarm system and two trackers. Any time the security system sees that something is amiss, it will ping the human operator.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the company worked with GrubHub, Yelp and East24. 

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