Anna Schuessler/Daily Journal
San Carlos’ first delivery robot journeyed less than a quarter mile from Laurel Street’s SusieCakes, where Alicia Haynie loaded it with fresh cupcakes, to City Hall where the treats were picked up by Martin Romo and Brian Cary. Created by Starship Technologies, the robots have been generating buzz in Redwood City and San Carlos, where they launched Tuesday.
Ambling over uneven sidewalks, climbing over curbs and pausing at intersections, Starship Technologies’ squat, white delivery robots bear a striking resemblance to the way careful pedestrians might navigate the streets of Peninsula cities.
And though the company that created the robots estimates they have met five million pedestrians as they ferry food deliveries in cities across the globe, they are set to meet hundreds more Peninsula residents as they hit the streets of downtown San Carlos.
A robot carrying four SusieCakes cupcakes from the bakery’s Laurel Street storefront to city staff members at San Carlos City Hall marked the city’s first official delivery Tuesday.
Martin Romo, one of the city’s economic development coordinators, was on the other end of the robot’s journey, having placed the sugary order.
“I think this could be a really positive thing for San Carlos,” he said.
Though Romo said the city is very excited to welcome the robots, he also said city staff would remain focused on making sure residents are aware of the fleet of up to 12 robots at a time that will be roaming San Carlos streets as a part of a pilot program approved by the city in March.
Alicia Haynie, general manager of the Laurel Street SusieCakes, also was looking forward to seeing how the public would respond to the influx of robots in the coming weeks. She said deliveries through food delivery services such as Postmates and DoorDash account for some 25 percent of the orders her bakery receives, making the addition of robots to their fleet of couriers a natural next step in an area defined by technology.
“Being in the Silicon Valley, the community can start to expect these types of things moving forward in the future,” she said.
After Haynie received Romo’s order from City Hall on the Postmates platform, she prepared a box of top-heavy cupcakes and gingerly placed them in the thermal cradle designed to maintain the temperature for restaurant and grocery store orders. Once she closed the robot’s top lid, the gleaming robot took off at a cool 4 mph. Though the machine may move more swiftly than its human counterparts, it seemed to consider some of the obstacles on its quarter-mile journey to City Hall carefully. Pausing at driveways and waiting for cars to clear intersections before it crossed streets, the robot and its six wheels navigated Laurel Street and Cherry Street sidewalks and intersections with caution.
Henry Harris-Burland, Starship Technologies’ vice president of marketing, said the company has found the robots excel with delivery routes that are 1.5 to 2 miles long and take 15-30 minutes to complete. For now, the robots will be accompanied by handlers, who can answer questions about robots and provide on-the-spot assistance should anything go awry.
Harris-Burland has been encouraged by the robot’s pilot program in Redwood City, which started in earnest earlier this year by integrating robots into the fleet of humans and vehicles delivering DoorDash and Postmates orders in the city’s downtown. He said the company has received a particularly encouraging email saying the robots felt like a part of the Redwood City family, which he believes bodes well for the robot’s launch in San Carlos.
“The residents are very welcoming of our technology, which we find very important,” he said.
For Vivek Patel, Postmates’ vice president of Business Operations, who has now seen the robots deliver some 200 Postmates orders since they have added them to their fleets in Washington, D.C., and Redwood City, the opportunity to test the technology’s potential in yet another city is too good to pass.
“I think San Carlos [is] very forward-thinking in terms of how can you make the city itself more modern, how can you partner with these companies to provide these services?” he said.
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