MILTON KEYNES, England (Reuters) – A fleet of robots on wheels that deliver shopping in the English town of Milton Keynes have seen their popularity surge as residents are stuck indoors due to the coronavirus lockdown.
The robots, which come up roughly to an adult’s knee height and look like smooth white plastic boxes mounted on six black wheels, are a familiar sight in the town, where they have been delivering groceries for over two years.
But since the government imposed strict social distancing measures on March 23, the devices have been busier than ever, delivering for free to National Health Service (NHS) staff and facing increased demand from the general public.
“Right now we are offering free delivery to all NHS workers within the community. We want to make life a little bit easier for these people in these very, very stressful times,” said Henry Harris-Burland, of Starship, the company that makes the robots.
“Lots of them are doing … 80-hour weeks and they don’t have time to go to the local grocery store, so they use our robots for their shopping,” he said. “We’re honoured that we can be part of that solution.”
The robots have what looks like an antenna, topped with a small red flag to make it easier to spot them as they do their rounds. They are big enough to hold several bags of shopping as well as a pack of bottles.
Starship has doubled its fleet of delivery robots in Milton Keynes to 70 in the past three weeks. Harris-Burland said they had completed 100,000 autonomous deliveries in the town.
“Lots of the residents have been reaching out to us online asking us to deliver into their neighbourhood,” he said.
“We’re doing everything we can as quickly as possible to expand to offer this service to more people, especially at this really important time.”
Reporting by Will Russell; writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison