Covid-19 has created a number of social distancing issues which we believe have increased both the short and long-term demand for Automation in general. One of the areas of automation which is getting a lot of interest in particular is drone technology which is increasingly being used to deliver everything from drugs to food where humans cannot. Whilst the technology and its capabilities are not new in themselves, there are a lot of organisations around the world racing to try them for the first time or speeding up their existing schedules so that they can make up for the shortfall in human labour. The main change has been that before COVID-19, the core driver for these systems was to reduce the cost of delivery, right now it is about the capacity to deliver at all. The demand has been equally strong for both flying and wheeled drones.
Starship Technologies delivery robot
In the area of ground-based delivery automation Starship Technologies which had already been conducting an extensive pilot program delivering groceries in the UK town of Milton Keynes since 2018 has nearly doubled the number of people it can reach there to 180,000. Starship’s 6-wheeled box sized drones which are allowed to use pavements have also been used in the US to deliver food to college campuses.
Another wheeled drone that has also been making waves recently is the much larger Nuro which is allowed to drive around on streets of California at up to 25mph (32km/h), again mainly delivering groceries and food but with a much larger range. In February 2020, Nuro AI was the first US autonomous vehicle maker to be given exemptions for testing on public roads without the need to even have controls for human operators.
Nuro’s road based delivery robot
Nuro’s second generation Nuro R2 which will be allowed to drive on certain roads in certain sections of Santa Clara and San Mateo once the lockdown lifts will be able to utilise this exemption.
Flying drones have also seen a rise in demand. China’s Antwork drones had spent the last two years delivering KFC and Starbucks orders in the province of Zhejiang, but shifted to make deliveries for hospitals in the area which included medicine. In the US, Pharmacy chain CVS and logistics heavyweight UPS have teamed up to launch a residential drone service in Florida to ‘The Villages’, the largest retirement community in the US which is home to 135,000 residents. The service will use Matternet’s M2 drone system. The companies were exploring the possibility of working together last year but think it has become even more important to get these systems working in these times.
Matternet's M2 Drone