Hermes testing ground delivery drones in London

Hermes, the consumer courier specialist, have started a pilot trial of ground delivery drones on the streets of Southwark in London, United Kingdom.

The self-driving, electrically-powered, ground-based autonomous delivery robots are made by Starship Technologies – a startup launched by Skype founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis in 2014 that recently secured $17.2 million backing from Daimler and others.

ground delivery drone Hermes Starship Hamburg
The Hermes-Starship delivery ground drones have already been tested in several suburbs in Hamburg, Germany. Image: Hermes

At first, the delivery ground drones will not be delivering parcels but collecting them during limited, 30-minute slots – either from consumers wishing to return items to retailers or from small businesses and consumers wishing to send packages via MyHermes.

‘Viable alternative’ to flying drones

The six-wheeled delivery ground drones are 70 cm (28 in) long, 55 cm (22 in) high, and weigh 18 kg (40 lb). They can travel at up to 4 miles (6.4 km) per hour.

They can carry parcels to a maximum weight of 10 kg (22 lb), which are held in a secure compartment that the consumer can open at their front door via a code that is sent to their smartphone.

Hermes say that the ground delivery drones “offer a viable alternative” to flying drones, especially in cities, towns, and other built-up areas with tight aviation restrictions.

One human will eventually control 100 drones

The purpose of the trial is to see how well the delivery ground drones can enhance the courier company’s service to customers.

Trials have already been carried out in three suburbs of Hamburg, in Germany.

The delivery ground drones are watched over by human operators who stay connected to them either via GPS or the internet and who can take control of them at any time.

Each operator controls up to three drones, but eventually, the plan is for the drones to be 99 percent autonomous and for one human to have charge of 100 of them at any one time.

Starship’s ground drones are already operating in London, where they are delivering food from JustEat restaurants in Greenwich.

Carole Woodhead, CEO of Hermes, says they can already see “first-hand” the success that the delivery ground drones have already had in London and they are “excited” to team up with Starship “in a bid to revolutionize the home delivery marketplace.”

Video – ground delivery drone

In the following video, TechCrunch talk to Ahti Heinla about the Starship ground delivery drone, its capabilities and benefits, and its advantages over airborne delivery drones.