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Smart cities

Why sidewalk delivery robots still need safety drivers

January 30, 2018

Small, wheeled drones are delivering packages in some cities—but, like driverless cars, they need a helping hand a lot of the time.

The robots: Starship Technologies has six-wheeled robots that deliver food in places like London and Silicon Valley. Using nine cameras, four radars, eight ultrasonic sensors, and a bit of AI, they navigate their way along sidewalks like mini autonomous cars.

Their limits: At the AI Congress in London today, Starship’s Kristjan Korjus noted that the firm’s robots cost $5,500, and the aim is for them to cost $2,250. That pricing, he says, means “every sensor is quite crappy.”

Why that matters: There’s a limit to what cheap computers and sensors can do, even if the robots travel at just four miles per hour: currently, they can cross a road independently just 50 percent of the time. Korjus says Starship employs 100 operators to remotely control the robots during tricky situations, and that the firm won’t have fully self-driving bots any time soon.

Deep Dive

Smart cities

Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project
Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

The city wants to get right what Sidewalk Labs got so wrong.

baidu worker (left) and autonomous vehicle driving on highway (right)
baidu worker (left) and autonomous vehicle driving on highway (right)

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We spoke to Liu Yang, who has one of the strangest jobs around: to sit in the passenger seat and monitor how self-driving cars cope with Beijing’s streets.

Terminal bi-articulated bus in Curitiba Brazil
Terminal bi-articulated bus in Curitiba Brazil

We need smarter cities, not “smart cities”

A singular focus on high-tech will dilute the vibrancy of our cities and limit their potential.

Marseilles surveillance cameras
Marseilles surveillance cameras

Marseille’s battle against the surveillance state

The boisterous, rebellious port city is trying to fight the growing ubiquity of policing cameras.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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