Aus­tralia Post's new de­liv­ery robot no bet­ter than an esky on wheels, ex­pert says

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Naa­man Zhou

Aus­tralia Post have launched a new par­cel de­liv­ery ser­vice us­ing an au­ton­o­mous robot that ex­perts say is of limited use and re­sem­bles an “esky” on wheels.

A four-week trial of the “mo­bile par­cel locker” be­gan on Mon­day in the Bris­bane sub­urb of New Farm. The small self-driv­ing con­tainer, nick­named “Billy the Box”, takes pack­ages door to door and un­locks via a unique code that is texted to users.

For the next month, res­i­dents who miss a de­liv­ery dur­ing busi­ness hours will be given the op­tion to have their par­cel re­de­liv­ered in the even­ing by the robot.

But the pro­to­type must be ac­com­pa­nied by a hu­man Aus­tralia Post em­ployee, and can only hold one par­cel at a time.

Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy ro­bot­ics ex­pert Peter Corke told the New Daily the cur­rent model’s rudi­men­tary tech­nol­ogy raised con­cerns.

“How does it cross the road?” he asked. “How do you stop it from be­ing picked up and put on a truck and taken away?

“To re­quire a robot and a hu­man to de­liver one par­cel when one guy in a truck can de­liver a num­ber of parcels with­out a hitch is not worth it ... At face value it doesn’t sound very use­ful.”

Aus­tralia Post’s chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer, Tien-Ti Mak, said the robot was de­signed to help Aus­tralians re­ceive parcels out of busi­ness hours, when they are more likely to be home.

“We know that re­ceiv­ing a ‘sorry we missed you’ card can be frus­trat­ing. So we’re look­ing at new ways to re­de­liver parcels af­ter hours,” he said.

Mak said New Farm was cho­sen be­cause its res­i­dents were some of Aus­tralia’s big­gest on­line shop­pers, buy­ing 19% of their items on­line com­pared with the na­tional aver­age of 11.5%.

“This af­ter-hours mo­bile locker trial in New Farm is the first step to gaug­ing whether there is com­mu­nity sup­port or de­mand to re­ceive parcels in this way.”

Mak told Chan­nel Nine the robot would be hard to pick up and steal be­cause it weighed roughly 100kg. Other safety fea­tures in­clude LED lights, cam­eras to record its jour­neys, and Roomba-like sen­sors to de­tect and avoid ob­sta­cles.

The robot can drive on all sur­faces, and was shown in videos go­ing up a slight drive­way in­cline.

When asked, a spokesman for Aus­tralia Post said there were no in­di­ca­tion of when the robot could op­er­ate with­out a hu­man min­der, or carry more than one par­cel.

Pho­to­graph: Dun­can Maxwell/In­sta­gram

Aus­tralia Post are tri­alling a new par­cel de­liv­ery ser­vice in the Bris­bane sub­urb of New Farm us­ing an au­ton­o­mous robot.

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