Starship’s Henry Harris-Burland: 'We Are Now Cheaper Than Human Delivery'
VP of Marketing shares new autonomous record, why campus environments thrive, out-driving Cruise & Waymo
As OttOmate continues to sit down with the best and brightest minds in the robotic delivery industry, we’ve worked our way over to industry juggernaut Starship Technologies. Founded way back in 2014, its arguable that the entire sector would not exist if not for Starship’s pioneering work in both consumer acceptance and legislative positioning. Henry Harris-Burland, the company’s VP of Marketing, gives us the company’s latest impressive milestones.
Jonah Bliss: Why don’t we start with some background; tell us a bit about the founding team, and what led to the creation of Starship?
Henry Harris-Burland: Starship Technologies was co-founded by Janus Friis, co-founder of Skype and Ahti Heinla, a founding engineer of Skype. Some of the original Starship team was initially part of a NASA contest to create sample retrieval robots. It quickly became clear to Janus and Ahti that these little robots could be a great way to help solve the inefficiencies in last-mile delivery while also making people’s lives more convenient. Rather than spending time on errands or waiting for packages to arrive, people could order what they needed on demand, and focus more on what they really wanted to do. We’re proud to have started an industry that has attracted world-class brands and new brands alike!
JB: What do you think of the current moment, in terms of macro factors affecting delivery overall, and fundraising for hardware startups in particular?
HHB: In the past few years, the convenience of on-demand delivery has gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have. Everyone has busy lives and if they can have their food or groceries delivered when they want them, they are much happier to use that time saved to do things they enjoy. Starship’s business model lines up with things that are important to people - sustainability and convenience while also addressing the labor shortages that are impacting many restaurants and grocery stores. Our business model allows us to scale and reduce costs, while other delivery companies are facing increasing costs and a tight labor market.
JB: Can you share a bit about your deployments, how many markets you’re in, if there’s a particular operating environment you’re focusing on?
HHB: Starship is currently providing autonomous deliveries in nearly 50 service areas, ranging from college campuses to neighborhoods. In early April, we announced that our robots have traveled more than 10 million kilometers (6m+ miles), which is an industry first and six times more than the milestones announced earlier this year by Waymo and Cruise. We are really proud of this achievement, which comes as we are marking five years of commercial, autonomous delivery.
In addition, our Level 4 autonomy and the pace at which we are doing autonomous deliveries have made a new company record possible - one of our robots completed a record 24 deliveries in 16 hours 100% autonomously without any human intervention or oversight.
We have found campuses and neighborhoods to be successful for us for different reasons: campuses often didn’t have any delivery options for on-campus merchants and in neighborhoods, our on-demand delivery options save people from having to get in the car to pick up items. For example, our research shows that in just one UK town, we removed 350,000 car journeys in our first 3.5 years of service.
“…one of our robots completed a record 24 deliveries in 16 hours 100% autonomously without any human intervention or oversight.”
JB: Are there markets, or partners, that have been particularly fruitful? Or any that have led to learning some key lessons?
HHB: Because we have been providing commercial services for five years and have completed more than 4 million autonomous commercial deliveries, we have honed in on what works. The first step is making sure we are an asset to whatever community we enter and that starts with helping to develop regulations for the entire industry. In fact, we have worked with several states to draft legislation for all personal delivery devices (PDDs). Regulations help local residents know that safeguards are in place and ensure that all operators act responsibly. Because we have the most experience in the industry and are safely operating in more than 50 locations, we think our learnings can benefit the residents and other companies in the industry. To meet the needs of each community, we have different models.
We have created different models based on what works best in each community. We recently launched DaaS (delivery as a service) where we offer our robots to partners who want a sustainable, low-cost method to deliver to their customers. We have multiple partners waiting to integrate our robots into their systems and have recently announced a partnership with Grubhub in the US.
Another advantage for Starship over other forms of delivery is that our costs will continue to decrease while many of the other companies’ costs will increase. Last year, we crossed a big milestone due to the advancements in our autonomous service. We are now cheaper than human delivery so we can offer lower fees without impacting service.
JB: With regards to creating your robots, how does Starship approach creating its hardware? Do you think this differentiates the company from some of its peers?
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