Chinese Tesla rival Xpeng steers clear of robotaxis, says self-driving trucks more likely to succeed

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Xpeng’s autopilot system Xpilot 3.0 is expected to be included in its P7 smart sedan in early 2021. Photo: HandoutXpeng’s autopilot system Xpilot 3.0 is expected to be included in its P7 smart sedan in early 2021.

It is difficult for self-driving systems to replace human drivers, especially in densely populated cities, Xpeng’s head of autonomous driving says

Self-driving long-haul trucks and robots handling last-mile deliveries are more likely to be successfully automated, according to Xinzhou Wu

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Amazon and FedEx push to put delivery robots on your sidewalk

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Amazon hopes its Scout robots will carry packages autonomously the “last mile,” from delivery hubs to homes. – ROGER KISBY/GETTY IMAGES

The companies are backing bills in more than a dozen states that would legalize the devices. Some bills would block cities from regulating them at all.

IN FEBRUARY, A lobbyist friend urged Erik Sartorius, the executive director of the Kansas League of Municipalities, to look at a newly introduced bill that would affect cities. The legislation involved “personal delivery devices”—robots that, as if in a sci-fi movie, might deliver a bag of groceries, a toolbox, or a prescription to your doorstep. It would have limited their weight to 150 pounds, not including the cargo inside. And it would have allowed them to operate on any sidewalk or crosswalk in Kansas at speeds up to 6 miles per hour, the pace of a quick human jog.

Lawmakers and lobbyists say the bill was drafted with help from Amazon. In later testimony to a state senate committee, Amazon lobbyist Jennie Massey said the bill would allow devices like Scout, the company’s bright blue, six-wheeled robot, “to bring new technology and innovation to Kansas.” She noted that Amazon had invested $2.2 billion in Kansas since 2010, and that the company employed 3,000 full-time workers in the state.

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The pandemic is bringing us closer to our robot takeout future


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Starship

“We saw that business double overnight,” startup says of UK grocery deliveries.

On the morning of March 30, I set out from my home in Washington, DC, to the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. In only a few hours, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam would issue coordinated stay-at-home orders. But I was going to GMU’s campus to check out a new technology seemingly tailor-made for the moment—technology that could help people get food without the risks of face-to-face interactions.

Campus was eerily quiet; most students and staff had long been sent home. But as I approached a Starbucks at the northern edge of GMU, I heard a faint buzzing and saw a six-wheeled, microwave-sized robot zip along the sidewalk, turn, and park in front of the coffee shop. The robot looked like—and essentially was—a large white cooler on wheels. It was a delivery robot from Starship, a startup that has been operating on campus since early last year.

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Robot deliveries might end up being common, post-Coronavirus Pandemic

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Having an unoccupied vehicle deliver your food makes a lot more sense now.

Delivery robots helped deliver food and medicine in Wuhan, China, during the coronavirus-related quarantine.

In the United States, autonomous shuttles from the French company NAVYA have been repurposed as delivery robots to transport COVID-19 tests.

Most of these delivery robots still have human controllers keeping track of them and driving them when needed.

While the Wuhan district in China was under quarantine, news surfaced of robots delivering food and, later, medical supplies. Meanwhile, in the United States, the French company NAVYA configured its autonomous passenger shuttles in Florida to transport COVID-19 tests to the Mayo Clinic from off-site test locations. As the weeks of stay-at-home orders and recommendations slip into months, the delivery robots that were seen as a joke, fad, or nuisance have in some instances found a way into the public consciousness as important tools to combat the spread of coronavirus. The question is, will their usefulness extend post-lockdown?

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The robots of Black Friday

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Delivery robot from Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn. Photo: Niels Wenstedt/AFP via Getty Images

Look out for the first of the retail robots as you shop this year.

Why it matters: From machines that can restock shelves to robot deliverers, automation is creeping into the retail industry. The first-ever cargo-carrying robot for consumers comes from Italian company Piaggio. The robot is similar to the delivery bots that FedEx and Amazon have been testing, but it can be yours for a few thousand bucks, AP reports.

Between the lines: On top of the more than 15 million Americans who work in retail year-round, companies routinely hire hundreds of thousands of temporary workers to staff stores and warehouses during big shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The development of more — and smarter — retail robots puts those jobs at risk.

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Thousands of autonomous delivery robots are about to descend on US college campuses

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Starship Technologies announces an expansion of its robot delivery service after raising $40 million

The quintessential college experience of getting pizza delivered to your dorm room is about to get a high-tech upgrade. On Tuesday, Starship Technologies announced its plan to deploy thousands of its autonomous six-wheeled delivery robots on college campuses around the country over the next two years, after raising $40 million in Series A funding.

It’s a big step for the San Francisco (née Estonia)-based startup and its robots, which have been tested in over 100 cities in 20 different countries, traveled 350,000 miles, crossed 4 million streets, and just marked the milestone of completing its 100,000th delivery. College campuses, with their abundance of walking paths, well-defined boundaries, and smartphone-using, delivery-minded student bodies, are an obvious place for Starship to stake out the next phase of its business.

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Amazon delivery robots are officially on the streets of California

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Amazon has robots on the streets. It’s a good bet urban delivery will never be the same.

Amazon has officially rolled out its last-mile delivery robots in a Southern California testbed. Called Scout, the delivery robot is designed to autonomously ferry parcels from urban distribution points to Amazon Prime customers, removing the need for vans and cars in last-mile delivery.

Amazon has previously tested its delivery robots in Washington State, but this marks the first California deployment. The robots, deployed in the Irvine area, will drive during daytime hours. Though designed to operate autonomously, the test robots will be accompanied by humans to ensure nothing goes wrong. So-called “Scout Ambassadors” will also be gauging public reaction to the robots, which is a big X-factor in plans to deploy autonomous mobile robots on city streets.

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