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Co-op introduces driverless delivery pods in Leeds

Food retailer Co-op has teamed up with Starship Technologies and Leeds City Council to bring autonomous grocery delivery to the streets of Leeds.

The service will be available to 20,000 residents initially within the Adel and Tinshill area of Leeds.

Orders are made through the Starship food delivery app, which is available for download on iOS and Android with Leeds residents able to choose from a range of grocery items, schedule their delivery, then drop a pin where they want their delivery to be sent.

Customers can order their delivery to arrive in under an hour and watch the robot travel in real-time via an interactive map. Customers receive an alert when the robot arrives, and can meet and unlock it through the app.

The expansion in the North of England for the first time follows the introduction of autonomous deliveries in Milton Keynes, Bedford, Northampton, Cambourne, and most recently Cambridge. Since the robots were first introduced into the UK, an estimated 1.1 million miles of car journeys have been saved with a 445-tonne reduction in CO2 emissions.

Starship’s robots are powered by renewable electricity, with an average delivery for a robot consuming as little energy as boiling a kettle to make just one cup of tea.

Chris Conway, eCommerce Director, Co-op, said: “Co-op is committed to exploring new and innovative ways to increase access to its products and services. Our members and customers lead busy lives and so ease, speed and convenience is a cornerstone of our approach. Co-op stores are well placed to provide quick home deliveries in communities with products picked fresh in our local stores – whether that is a full grocery shop or for those last-minute top-ups, treats for evenings at home or forgotten items. We are delighted to be expanding into Yorkshire to provide flexible, quick and convenient options online for shoppers in our communities.”

Councillor Helen Hayden, Leeds City Council’s executive member for infrastructure and climate, added: “As a council we are absolutely committed to delivering alternative, sustainable methods of travel to help reach our target of becoming net-zero by 2030. We are trying to reduce the number of short journeys made by car, including those made by delivery vehicles. I’m really excited by the launch of this pilot, which will be trialled for three months in north-west Leeds.

“Since the pandemic, we have seen a huge increase in the number of home deliveries. This pilot will be transformative and will provide an alternative home delivery provision which will particularly benefit residents with mobility problems or those facing other challenges which make accessing local facilities difficult. I would encourage residents in Adel and Tinshill to feedback their thoughts on the delivery robots during the pilot by visiting the council’s survey at”

Alastair Westgarth, CEO at Starship Technologies, commented: “We are delighted to bring the benefits of autonomous delivery to residents in Leeds. This is our first significant expansion to the north of England, and we are confident the robots will make a positive impact in terms of actively reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions, while also providing ease and convenience for local communities. Our robots have been widely welcomed as part of the community in all the areas we operate, and we are confident they will be equally embraced in Leeds. We are looking forward to working closely with Leeds City Council and Co-op and hope to further expand our service to more parts of Leeds and the wider Yorkshire region in the near future.”

The robots are battery powered, lightweight and travel at the speed of a pedestrian (no faster than 4mph). They use a combination of sensors, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to travel on pavements and navigate around any obstacles, while computer vision-based navigation helps them map their environment to the nearest inch.

Starship, which was created by the co-founders of communications system Skype in 2014, currently operates a fully commercial service in five countries around the world and a number of towns and cities in the UK in partnership with Co-op including Milton Keynes; Bedford; Northampton; Cambridge and, now Leeds. Residents in all of these UK towns and cities can also expect to see Starship’s robots celebrating Christmas in the coming weeks, with the robots dressed as reindeer while making deliveries to excited families.

Since launching commercial deliveries in 2018, Starship’s robots have safely completed more than four million deliveries around the world with more and more people using the service to save time and fit shopping around their busy lives. Globally, the robots undertake 140,000 road crossings every day.

However the Daily Telegraph reports that in Cambridge, robots have been spotted forming long queues to cross busy roads, waiting at pedestrian crossings and asking passers-by for help.

The report says that in some cases, the robots “have been seen swerving to one side to avoid growling dogs or the tiny fingers of curious children”.

Author: Lucy Hutton

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