Australia Post’s trial of a new robot companion for mail staff has been described as ‘uneconomic’ and a ‘glorified esky’.
In a move designed to meet the demand created by online shopping, the autonomous parcel delivery service will roll onto the footpaths of inner Brisbane in a four-week trial from Monday.
Australia Post wants to assess if it should introduce self-driving robot services.
However, the unit has been slammed by experts for its simplicity –consisting of a single mobile parcel locker to allow residents to accept a parcel delivery from 6pm to midnight.
When the robot postie arrives outside a customer’s residence, they will receive a text message and can reply to the message to unlock the unit.
But according to Queensland University of Technology robotics expert Dr Peter Corke, the small grounded robot faces limitations.
The mobile parcel locker requires supervision by an Australia Post employee and it can only carry one parcel at a time.
Not very useful
“The fact it needs a human minder clearly makes it uneconomic, carrying a single parcel at a time makes it uneconomic,” Dr Corke told The New Daily.
“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.
“People don’t care how the parcel gets to their house, people don’t like having to be at home waiting for a parcel to be delivered, people just want their parcel delivered quickly and securely, and a robot may or may not be the answer to that.
“At face value it doesn’t sound very useful.”
Curtin University robotic technology expert Dr Eleanor Sandry echoed the comment, saying this technology “is very much in its infancy”.
“The real world environment is going to impact this technology a great deal, it needs to be able to navigate and move proportionately so it doesn’t cause accidents,” Dr Sandry told The New Daily.
Australia Post innovation partner and chief technology officer Tien Ti Mak told The New Daily the program aims to make online shopping more convenient.
He said the robot is implemented with a number of safety measures, including sensors to avoid obstacles and LED lights.
“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 when more people are likely to be home,” Mr Ti Mak said in a statement.
“Australia Post has continually embraced innovation and trialled new ideas throughout its 208-year history.”
Australia Post did not respond to The New Daily‘s question on cost of the program.
Australia Post robot’s biggest challenge
Dr Corke said even if the robot was “wickedly smart”, economically viable and did not need a human chaperone, it does not address small ground robots’ biggest challenge – safely crossing intersections.
“How does it cross the road? How does the robot push the button? How does it avoid running over little children? What about piles of rubbish on the footpath? How do you stop it from being picked up and put on a truck and taken away?” Dr Corke said.
“There are a lot of practical issues with this that are very difficult to solve.
“In a research sense we have the technology to do it [address the challenge], but whether it makes economic sense to put that much computing and senses on a vehicle that delivers a single parcel. It doesn’t sound likely to me.”