Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Postmates' Delivery Robots

Postmates is an extremely popular logistics company who’s employees deliver goods locally. With just a few simple clicks on their app or on their website, you can have the food you are craving delivered right to your doorstep. Just a few months ago, Postmates began testing ground robots as a new method of delivery. The robots are designed to roam the sidewalks and make their deliveries within a two-mile radius. Postmates is quite excited about these robots because these “Starship” robots have had success in other places around the world such as Britain, Germany, Switzerland, and Estonia. The hope is that these robots will please the customers because many times customers get frustrated when there are no Postmates drivers nearby or if they take a long time due to traffic.
            While I believe that it would be quite interesting to see robots rolling around delivering food, I see many flaws with this idea. First of all, the robots can only travel at 4mph and are meant to travel on sidewalks. This makes me wonder what they plan for routes that do not have sidewalks. They cannot have these robots roaming around busy streets. Another issue that I see is the fact that the robots run on batteries. I can already envision customers becoming furious because their food never showed up due to their delivering robot losing charge in the middle of the route. This would frustrate customers to a completely different level and could ultimately cause loss of customers. Another issue that I can potentially see happening is people intercepting or vandalizing these robots during the course of its delivery route. I am sure it wouldn’t be too hard for people to either steal the food, or mess with the robot during its route. Based off of the pictures of this model of the robot, the robot operates by rolling with their wheels, similar to a car. What if the robot gets in the way of someone who is having a bad day? It wouldn’t be hard for them to just kick the robot and tip it over. Judging by the looks of the model, it wouldn’t be able to get up so easily, if at all. Yet again, this would result in failure to finish the delivery, leading to more upset customers. There is nothing worse than when you are really hungry and order food, but the food never ends up coming.

            Overall, I think implementing delivery robots seems like a cool, high-tech, thing to do, but it is a highly impractical way of delivery. I think that Postmates should focus more on their app and expanding their market. They should focus more on becoming a more efficient and faster deliver service, but robots are not the answer right now. There are way too many negatives and potential failures for the delivery robots right now. There is no harm in testing them out, but ultimately I don’t think they will be successful.


Caroline Coulter said...

This is a very interesting concept! This is a mix of an automated vehicle and a delivery service app. As someone who has used Postmates before, I can attest to the frustration of not being able to locate a Postmate to pick up my food, and then just deciding to nix the whole idea. A battery-powered, sidewalk model of robot might not do the trick however, as you suggested prior. This still seems like it would require human involvement to place the food with the robot anyway. In addition, a slow-moving, sidewalk bot would probably increase the time it takes to deliver food, and would thereby decrease customer satisfaction if, say, the food is cold by the time of delivery. Driverless cars would probably make a faster alternative to sidewalk bots, although they are not street legal yet. In all, I think Postmates is taking strides to try to be ahead of the food delivery curve with integrated technology, but this may not be the winning model just yet.
The problems you have pointed out seem very practical as far as theft of food and vandalism of robotic property, and possibly even the robot itself could be stolen. There seem to be too many possible negatives for these sidewalk snack bots, but hopefully more durable and fast models are developed (while keeping civilian safety in mind as well), that can bring the food delivery service to a new level utilizing technology.

matt cannon said...

The idea of robots delivering food for Postmates is a cool and revolutionary idea. It has never be done before and is a cool way to deliver food. However, I don’t think that it will be a success for the ideas you mentioned and some more. To begin, they are a security risk. There is nothing to stop someone from taking the food from these robots or taking the robots themselves. This would mean both Postmates and the customers would lose money. I also don’t see how robots will be able to go into the store and pick up as well. The idea of the robots is cool but I don’t think it is needed. You mentioned how the article said it delivers food right to doorsteps. This isn’t a big deal because it already does that along with other companies. Companies come to the drive way already which is close enough. Another issue I saw occurring was with the range covered. There aren’t many options for people to pick from in a two-mile radius. Using cars allows for a larger distance covered. Only people who live in cities would benefit for this but at the same time it will increase the risk of all the issues that could occur. The more people in the area the greater chance of something happening. It would also be costly for Postmates. Since the range is small they will have to have more spots for them to leave from and that will be costly too. It seems that this would just be a high cost, low profit and high risk too. I don’t think that there is room for robots in this industry. There is too much human interaction in this industry and robots and artificial intelligence are not smart enough yet to be able to take into account the human risk factor. The car delivery has been doing fine and is the best way to get this type of job done. Unless the cars that are driving are like self-driving Ubers then there will be no place for a just robot industry. Robots also can’t account for human error. Often times when Postmates is delivery to campuses people need to tell the drivers specific directions on the phone in order for the driver to get the food to their dorms. This is something the robots won’t be able to do and college campuses I can imagine are big customer providers for Postmates. Using these robots will be a hassle for the kids. In the end this will be nothing but a waste of money.

Kelly McNamara said...

I completely agree that Postmates’ plan to use robots for deliveries is very risky and has a lot of room for error. Like you have already mentioned, its speed, its dependency on sidewalks, and its battery life are limitations. If people wanting to use Postmates are notified that their delivery will be executed by a robot and if they know about the possible risks of using a robot, they may cancel their order and may look to other food delivery services, which will cause Postmates to take a huge hit in their business. When I first started reading about this idea of Postmates using robots, I immediately thought the same thing you did and imagines people stealing the food or destroying the robots, whether it be on purpose or accidentally. If Postmates customers experience a lot of failed deliveries, Postmates will end up paying more in recovery costs.
As someone who has used food delivery services before, like Postmates, I can say that users would really appreciate anyway that the service could cut down on the delivery time. Like you had mentioned, traffic and distance tends to make the delivery process take a long time. It is frustrating because the time between submitting an order and receiving the food at your door can take up to over an hour and usually users order food when they are hungry and waiting an hour can be miserable. There is a demand for delivery services to be faster, but I am not sure that these robots are the answer to addressing the demand.
As of right now, I believe that the risks outweigh the reward of the current model of delivery robots that Postmates is developing. I too agree that this idea is innovative and that artificial intelligence is the future of many industries, but as of right now, I am not very confident in the possibility of this idea being a success for Postmates. Although this idea too can be risky, it seems as though that drones may be more reliable and eliminate some of the risks/worries brought on by these ground traveling robots. Also with drones, Postmates would have more control of the obstacles that a drone might encounter. I am not sure about the costs of developing and implementing either of these two types of delivery technologies, but I imagine that drones may be more expensive, but I personally think that the possible increase in price for developing the drones would be worth eliminating the risks of the robots.
It makes a lot of sense that Postmates is looking to integrate artificial intelligence into their delivery process/methods, but again, I am not confident that the company will benefit from this use of technology and instead it may end up costing them more in having to pay for incomplete deliveries and in a loss in customers. I think that Postmates should conduct more research on this type of technology and look for other ideas or ways in which they could improve on the model in order to make it fool proof.