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There’s a Starman

…As David Bowie once sung, but did he expect to have your morning groceries delivered from Starship via a Robot?

I was really excited, I’ve seen these little fellas roaming around the streets recently, and as a lover of tech, I’d been keen to try this out. Finally the little fellas have stretched their legs, delivering further away, it seemed rude not to give it ago.

I downloaded the Starship App or look for Starship in your favourite App Store, registration was straight forward, I was then offered a choice of retailers supporting the service.

I opted for some breakfast essentials since I’d run out of milk two days prior and my anxiety was preventing me from going out.

In minutes my order was confirmed and once the robot was on it’s way, you’re notified via a push message to your phone and you can track his progress.

I was curious how it would handle the large busy roundabout and morning traffic. Following the robots progress via the app, he navigated around the larger roads by taking the rat runs (Side streets) to reach me, having to cross a few major roads and streets.

When he was within four minutes of my home I was notified to get ready, and I could see him trundling on the road opposite making his way to a central reservation to cross the road, before rocking up to my home. Because the step was huge he obediently stopped as close as he could, where I was able to unlock him with the app and collect my groceries, close him up and send him on his way back home, all with a tap and swipe.

All this for only 99 pence for the first three deliveries too!

The transaction experience was flawless, from registering my details, placing the first order and payment with the added bonus of not waiting in till queues, wearing a mask or mixing with the germy people was amazing.

My Starship Delivery

On one of the local social media groups, some people were concerned these robots are taking away jobs from the masses, which in turn will result in more people out of work. I can see their short term concern.

What history has shown us is, whenever a repetitive task is identified, we’ve found a way of automating it. Whether it be highly skilled professional weavers through to car manufacturing or creating 3D printed buildings, automation has proven time and again an increase in speed, efficiency with fewer errors and produce a much higher and consistent quality.

How does that help the original posters concerns? If we look in the shorter term, using weavers from the industrial age as an example. Their profession was considered one of the highest in the land and commanded and commensurate renumeration, after all their skills were creating materials and cloth of varying degrees of quality and finery. Machinery came along and automated that process to the point that a manufacturer could guarantee a consistent quality and speedy production of material each time. In the short term this cause hardship and loss of work for those that had performed this task by hand, honing their over decades.

Did it bring down civilisation as we know it? Of course not, people adapted, advancing their skills, machinery needs maintenance, care, parts, replacing, optimising, more delivery drivers to a wider radius due to the volume that could be produced, marketing, sales and every other job in between. A new industry was born with a wider variety of skills.

Not many of us wash our everyday clothing by hand these days, long gone are the trips to the local river bank scrubbing cloth with the root of soapweed yucca… No we created an industry in soaps and detergents, no more the wash bin filled with boiling water, nor the turn of the mangle, no sireee…. washing machine and tumble driers are all too familiar in many first world countries, toss your clothes in, press a couple of buttons and hey presto, cleaner clothes. Sadly however, no one has mastered the automated ironing machine…

I’ve gone off at a tangent… look at the robot. There will be hundreds of thousands of lines of code being written by people to control every aspect of its interaction with the real world, testing, validation and certification, this cycle will be iterative with each change and enhancement thats required. There’s mapping of the real world streets, pavements and driveways along with robots to be built, replacement parts for consumables and that’s just the start. A whole industry is ramping up production to meet the demand, which currently needs an army of people to get right. Then you have remote operators (like drone pilots) that steer these things online when it’s automation throws an exception, or gets stuck. People are still needed to load the machines with the goods you’ve ordered (at the moment), and people to re-stock the shelves, this can only lead to increase in use as we become more familiar with the technology and the benefits it brings.

As I see it (Obviously I’m biased towards tech and useless with a spanner and an engine), jobs will diversify further to provide auxiliary support, as we have done at every technology advancement in history…

My current concern, is how it may affect pedestrians who are blind, or with mobility issues, and I’m sure these questions will resolve themselves as time progresses. Currently these robots are limited to navigating on pavements and crossing roads, once full driver autonomy is achieved, I can see these fellas taking to the road with the rest of the electric vehicles.

I’m curious how long before these become the main target of thieves and vagabonds… Although the tech has a plethora of sensors, including 360 degree camera, alarms and can be tracked to the nearest inch on the map. Time will tell if the telemetry and camera data is sufficient to secure a conviction. The cyber security architect in me, wants to test one to the extreme. Until then I’ll have to satisfy myself with this video.

Starship who support the product here in Blighty have claimed their product saved 403 Tons of CO2 emissions over 1,000,000 successful deliveries, I’m sure you’ll agree those are impressive numbers, especially when you think of the potential pollution produced by delivery drivers in non-electric or manual vehicles.

Automation is and always will be in our future as we strive towards that old cliché “Work smarter, not harder”. Whether you’re for or against the advancement of technology, one thing is for sure, the pace of technology is exponentially on the rise again as we take advantage of Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Sensors and other telemetry data being gathered daily to improve our lives and increase efficiency in every day tasks. I only hope the security professionals learn from historical mistakes and make it more difficult for these devices to be hacked. Realistically nothing is hack proof, given time, resources and some very smart people out there, it doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.


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