New normal? Robots being used for home deliveries due to surge in COVID cases

WION Web Team
Singapore Published: Apr 13, 2021, 11:36 AM(IST)

A customer collects his groceries from Camello, an autonomous grocery delivery robot, in Singapore Photograph:( Reuters )

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Developed by OTSAW Digital and both named 'Camello', the robots' services have been offered to 700 households in a one-year trial

Hoping to capitalise on a surge in demand for home deliveries, a Singapore technology company has deployed a pair of robots to bring residents their groceries in one part of the city state.

Developed by OTSAW Digital and both named "Camello", the robots' services have been offered to 700 households in a one-year trial.

Users can book delivery slots for their milk and eggs, and an app notifies them when the robot is about to reach a pick-up point, usually the lobby of an apartment building.

The robots, which are equipped with 3D sensors, a camera and two compartments each able to carry up to 20 kg (44 lb) of food or parcels ordered online, make four or five deliveries per day on weekdays and are on call for half day on Saturday.

They use ultraviolet light to disinfect themselves after every trip, said OTSAW Digital's chief executive, Ling Ting Ming.

"Especially during this pandemic period, everybody is looking at contactless, humanless," he said.

For the time being, staff accompany the robots on their rounds to ensure no problems arise.

Tashfique Haider, a 25-year-old student who has tried out the service, said it could be particularly helpful for the elderly so they wouldn't have to carry goods home.

But a passerby worried the technology might be too much trouble for some.

"The younger customers will like it. I don't think they (the older generation) will, because these are gadgets that younger people like," said 36-year-old housewife Xue Ya Xin.

Similarly, Domino's Pizza Inc and Nuro Inc, a Silicon Valley startup, said on Monday they will launch a robotic pizza delivery service in Houston this week as they seek to satisfy increasing online orders during the pandemic.

With small, low-speed vehicles to carry packages instead of people, Nuro has been pulling ahead of other autonomous vehicle startups in gaining regulatory approvals. It won US clearance last year to start unmanned delivery services.

Nuro recently secured a $500 million including an equity investment from Woven Capital, the mobility investment arm of a Toyota Motor Corp subsidiary, which made its total valuation more than $5 billion, a person familiar with the matter said.

The delivery service will begin at a Domino's outlet in Houston before expanding to serve customers in many other locations as part of a long-term partnership, said Cosimo Leipold, Nuro’s head of partner relations.

"It’s generally difficult for large companies to hire enough drivers to fill their delivery demand," Leipold said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Leipold said Nuro, which has already partnered with retailers Kroger Co, Walmart Inc and CVS Health Corp to deliver groceries and prescriptions, said its weekly deliveries had nearly tripled in the first three months of the pandemic.

Houston, the fourth-largest US city, has one of the country's highest road fatality rates. "Houston’s roadways create challenging scenarios for our technology to work with," Leipold added.

Nuro and Domino’s had said in 2019 they expected to launch robot pizza delivery late that year. "Nuro and Domino’s have taken a measured approach to prioritize a smooth and safe deployment," Leipold said.

Nuro, founded by two former Google engineers in 2016, previously raised $940 million from the SoftBank Vision Fund.

(With input from agencies)

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