Food, grocery delivery robots slated to launch soon in Frisco

Starship Technologies offered its robot delivery service at The University of Texas at Dallas this school year. (Courtesy Liz Wigglesworth)
Starship Technologies offered its robot delivery service at The University of Texas at Dallas this school year. (Courtesy Liz Wigglesworth)

Starship Technologies offered its robot delivery service at The University of Texas at Dallas this school year. (Courtesy Liz Wigglesworth)

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The Starship robots travel autonomously in premapped areas using a combination of computer vision and GPS. (Courtesy Starship Technologies)
Frisco residents could soon have food and groceries delivered by autonomous robots.

Starship Technologies presented information during the Frisco City Council's work session May 5 on the company’s plans to contract with several local merchants to offer deliveries through its robots.

“We've identified the intersection around Main and Teel [streets] as probably where we're going to start,” Starship Director of Sales Robert Buehler said. “Vendors that have expressed interest include Fuzzy’s Tacos, Kpop Burger, Hareli Fresh Market, Kroger, Chicken Express [and] Hurts Donut—those sorts of restaurants and grocers in that area.”

Buehler said Starship Technologies was started in 2014 by the founders of the digital technology app Skype. About 100 engineers are working on the delivery robot project, which has done more than 150,000 deliveries, he said.

“Our focus for the last couple years has been deploying this at universities,” Buehler said, noting the service is offered at The University of Texas at Dallas. “With the pandemic, a lot of campuses have emptied out of students. So we have accelerated our long-term plans, which is to offer neighborhood deliveries.”

To use the delivery service, Buehler said consumers will order and pay through a mobile app overseen by Starship Technologies. The orders are then sent to the merchant, who loads the purchases into the robot's compartment. Buehler said the robot would drive to the consumer's location indicated on the app’s map, similar to how the Uber app works.

Buehler said the robot provides a contactless delivery system, which he noted is an important element during the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

“Every person that can stay at home and order a delivery via this robot is staying out of the store, staying out of the restaurant, and preventing unnecessary interactions with those frontline workers,” Buehler said.

The robots generally operate on sidewalks but are able to cross streets, he said.

“It is 99% autonomous, but there are always human robot operators in the loop that can address any unexpected instances as it’s making its trip,” Buehler said.

The robots use a 3-D mapping technology and are equipped with cameras, time of flight sensors, radars and ultrasonics, according to Buehler. “Those are designed to see the world around the robot and make sure it's very safe when it's traveling in crowded areas.”

The robots have a maximum speed of about 4 mph, weigh about 60 pounds unloaded and can carry 25 pounds, he said. The robots currently deliver within a three-mile radius to areas that have been pre-mapped, according to the company's website.

“If there was a catastrophic failure of every sensor, and it actually bumped into someone's leg, it's going to do that with the force of 36 joules, which is the force required to break open an egg,” Buehler said.

City staff said they are still working through some technical logistics with Starship Technologies. A date for the technology’s deployment will be announced in the next few weeks, staff said. Citizens may see Buehler and the robots around town before the launch, council was told, as the company is currently doing GIS mapping for the service.

Mayor Jeff Cheney said the city is looking forward to seeing the robots delivering goods in the community.

“Frisco likes to be known for innovation, especially when it comes to transportation and technologies,” Cheney said. “We know this is the future of where things are going here in Frisco, and so we definitely want to be on the leading edge of that.”
By William C. Wadsack
William C. Wadsack is editor of the Frisco edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He previously served as managing editor of several daily and weekly publications in North Texas and his native state of Louisiana before joining Community Impact Newspaper in 2019.


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