New technology to protect delivery drones from grocery thieves

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It’s a problem only the 21st century could bring: how to stop people nicking their neighbour’s groceries from a self-driving delivery drone

Starship Technologies is currently running trials of its autonomous rovers, which trundle along the ground carrying goods to order, in Greenwich.

At the moment, the vehicles have a single compartment to transport items. This is locked during the journey and can only be opened by the recipient via a smartphone app.

In the future, however, according to a European patent, neighbourhoods will be hooked up to hyper-local social networks.

A dedicated drone would make deliveries to households up and down the street.

This would pose problems if a customer lifted the vehicle’s lid to remove their package but could then access neighbours’ deliveries.

In response, Starship has filed a patent for “security measures for robotic package delivery”.

It suggests anyone pilfering from its drones will be met with an alarm or a human operator telling them to desist through the drone’s speaker system. The robot could also flash its lights to alert others.

The single cargo hold could also be divided into smaller compartments, each with a weight sensor so the drone has a record of how much it should be carrying. 

Starship’s patent says: “In such robots, recipients have physical access to parcels not intended for them. Therefore, a recipient might take the wrong parcel, either intentionally or unintentionally. Therefore, some technical measures are needed to reduce the chances of that happening.”

Small cameras already begin recording when the compartment is opened.

Alarms will sound to alert passersby of any thieves (Starship Technologies)

Henry Harris-Burland, Starship’s vice-president of marketing, said: “Customers are also not aware what’s inside, so it’s going to be embarrassing to get caught stealing, all for some carrots.”

The company has signed deals with takeaway firm Just Eat and the Hermes parcel service. 

The self-driving, battery-powered boxes on wheels travel at up to 4mph and have a one-mile radius. 

The on-board battery lasts for about two hours and the delivery range is up to 30 minutes from base, guided by a GPS system within the vehicle.

The six-wheeled drones can “hop” up kerbs and use sensors to avoid  passers-by.


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