All robot deliveries will be complete within 30 minutes, and customers will get periodic smartphone notifications while the machines are en route.

By Gillie Houston
Updated May 24, 2017
Robot Food Delivery
Credit: © Just Eat

Robots have begun to infiltrate the food world on all levels—from replacing farmers in Japan to slinging drinks behind the bar. Now, one of the biggest food delivery companies in Europe wants to supplement their delivery people with—you guessed it—machines.

Just Eat, an app with more than 14 million active users and 64,000 restaurant partners across Europe, will begin testing a small number of self-driving robot delivery men this summer, in hopes of expanding the technology in the future. The company struck a partnership with robot startup Starship Technologies, which created machines that drive themselves at a walking pace and can be unlocked only when the customers' order code is entered, thwarting potential pizza thieves. Starship co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, who previously made their mark on the tech world with their video conversation app Skype, say all robot deliveries will be complete within 30 minutes, and the customer will get periodic smartphone notifications while the machines are en route.

Starship staff in London and Tallin, Estonia monitor the robots from afar, making sure they're not obstructed by objects—or people—in the road, but for most part the machines operate on their own. According to the founders, in their testing period, which covered nearly 5,000 miles and encountered 400,000 people, there wasn't "a single accident" or theft involving the machines, which weight more than 40 pounds and are equipped with 360-degree cameras.

According to Forbes, Starship's self-driving robots have been hitting the streets of a variety of European cities since last year, including London and Berlin. And while Just Eat will only be employing six futuristic delivery boys in its initial trial, chief executive David Buttress says the company hopes to expand the robot program in the following months.

"We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think it was a scaleable solution for thousands of restaurants," Buttress. However, Buttress says his intent is not to replace human delivery people entirely, but rather use the robots as tools during peak order times when restaurants are flooded with orders.

"This is a really exciting, but also a highly-efficient way to fix delivery long term," Buttress says of the opportunity for businesses who previously didn't deliver their food to hop on the robot delivery bandwagon. "This is for real and going to happen. This isn't a future thing," he adds. So, the next time you order a pizza, be prepared: there could be a piece of state-of-the-art machinery arriving at your door.