Created and operated by a startup called Starship technologies [1], Starship robots are small, maneuverable, and most importantly, self-driving vehicles that are designed to deliver goods locally in minutes.  

Moving at a moderate walking pace of around six kilometers per hour, the six-wheeled ground robots can carry loads of up to 15 kilograms in a locked cargo compartment. Thanks to an array of ‘smart sensors’ and an advanced object-detection system running at over 2,000 frames per second, the Starship robot can map and understand the world around it with precision. It can detect unexpected obstacles or traffic and use this information to make adaptations to its route in real-time.  

While these smart robots are designed to travel autonomously, they are overseen by human operators who can always step in to take over control at any time remotely – negating any potential safety concerns.  

Working closely with our Innovation Center, our Site Management team at Darmstadt was keen to explore the capabilities of the Starship robots to find out how well they could support with transportation of replacement parts and express deliveries across the Darmstadt campus. 

On-site testing of Starship robots

The self-driving delivery robots traveled mainly along the existing pedestrian walkways, taking the quickest and safest route between their loading point and destination. Once a Starship robot had learned its route, employees could summon it effortlessly via a smartphone or computer. After loading it up with goods, the vehicle then traveled to its destination where it automatically sends an SMS or email to summon the recipient to collect its cargo.  

The results of extensive testing demonstrated the benefits of these smart self-driving delivery robots.  

“The new delivery robot has a very diverse range of uses, saves employees time-wasting trips across site and contributes to increasing efficiency. The ‘Starship’ allows us to improve delivery with the site,” says Benedikt Ulmke, Project Manager in our Site Management team in Digital Engineering. “It just makes things quicker. The plants have shorter downtimes, transit time is reduced and, ultimately, colleagues are more satisfied.”  

Additionally, the testing was a practical project for our technical apprentices. They supported by checking the routes for obstacles and, where necessary, built small ramps to enable the robots to negotiate higher curbs. They also realized the mapping for the loading stations and the central charging stations where the vehicles will be recharged from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The apprentices also created an overall intranet presence where employees can find any information about the project.

A bright future for self-driving delivery robots

While these automated delivery robots may be a new addition to our workforce, the technology is already in use at numerous other industrial sites and universities in many different countries around the world. Starship and other similar robots have already traveled a combined total of 850,000 kilometers and made 250,000 deliveries globally.

“The autonomous transport robots are a good addition to our current on-site service portfolio,” emphasizes Christian Resch, Project Manager at On-Site Logistics. “We have analyzed various applications and are making plans together with initial partners as to how the robots can be integrated into their processes.”  

But this is only the start of the adventure for these versatile autonomous delivery robots. Their next steps include venturing into increasingly complex locations, such as busy urban environments, where they will need to find their way around roads and pavements, navigate next to other moving vehicles, and along busy streets packed with pedestrians – and react to hazards such as traffic lights and emergency vehicles. 

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