Will robots be making deliveries in Menlo Park?

City looks into a pilot program involving a fleet of delivery robots

Entrepreneurs, take note: If you want to pitch the Menlo Park City Council on something newfangled, it can't hurt to sweeten your presentation with a box of treats from a Menlo Park bakery.

That's what happened at a presentation by Starship Technologies during the council's Oct. 25 meeting, while the company pitched council members on a pilot program to operate a fleet of delivery robots in town.

Starship Technologies spokesperson Henry Harris-Burland showed video footage of a robot resembling a wheeled cooler rolling through the sidewalks of downtown Menlo Park, changing direction quickly to avoid obstacles. After the video presentation ended, the robot, roughly the size of a medium dog, wheeled into the council chambers at a leisurely maximum speed of 4 miles per hour, before it was unlocked to reveal goodies from Mademoiselle Colette.

Mr. Harris-Burland told the council Menlo Park could be the company's second U.S. city to be part of a nine- to 12-month pilot program of its mobile delivery robots. The first U.S. city signed on is Washington, D.C.

According to Allan Martinson, the company's chief operating officer, the robot is also being debuted at city meetings in San Carlos, Redwood City and Sunnyvale. Due to its situation in Silicon Valley, Menlo Park is a "natural place to start," he said. Plus, according to their testing, the robot works best in areas where the population is less dense, so the robot faces fewer complex traffic and pedestrian situations.

According to Mr. Harris-Burland, the company has tested the robot over more than 11,000 miles of sidewalks across the world, and noted that three-quarters of people who see the robot don't respond to it at all.

The robot is mostly autonomous, but is operated by people in situations that are more complex, such as while crossing the street.

During the pilot, a person would accompany the robot wherever it goes. The robot would show up on the doorstep at a specified time, and then the customer would unlock it using an app, and retrieve the delivered parcel.

Such machines aren't subject to much regulation yet, Mr. Martinson said, but because they travel on sidewalks, and cities own sidewalks, the company is seeking approval from city councils of areas it operates in. Because Menlo Park doesn't have sidewalks in all areas, the pilot wouldn't be implemented everywhere in the city.

The idea would be for Menlo Park to be assigned a fleet of 20 to 25 such robots, operated by Starship Technologies, to act as a "taxi service for things," in the words of Mr. Martinson. The robots wouldn't be for sale, but local businesses could use them to provide "on-demand" delivery services to their customers.

Library deliveries or Meals on Wheels were also mentioned during the meeting as potential uses for the robots.

Mr. Harris-Burland said the robot is equipped with an alarm system and a GPS system that could allow the police to track it, allaying concerns that the robot or its cargo could get stolen.

Debora Ferrand, owner of Mademoiselle Colette, spoke to the council in favor of the robots. She said they would allow her to make deliveries to her customers, perhaps for free if they spend a certain amount. Using the robot, delivery costs would drop from $1 to $3 per delivery, making it cheaper for customers than other services such as Doordash, which can charge around $4 to $6 for local food deliveries.

"This kind of thing can be super helpful," she said. "I hope it goes through."

After hearing the presentation, the council seemed receptive to the delivery robots and recommended the company work with staff to iron out more details about how a pilot program might be implemented, following another discussion with the council about specific policies.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the company as Starship Industries, not Starship Technologies.

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4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm

This is a laugh, at least in Allied Arts where sidewalks are uncommon and where they do exist, uncommonly short, like sidewalks to nowhere.

And is there not resistance to sidewalks since they represent a departure from the "Menlo Park is a village" mindset so treasured by the residentialists?

It's not likely they'll be tested in any substantial way to serve the entire city. They'd have to go around parked vehicles and out into traffic.

Like this comment
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 28, 2016 at 4:51 pm

Unfortunately a terrible security risk potential. Anonymous delivery of weapons, explosives etc. No thanks.

7 people like this
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2016 at 1:01 am

What a horrible idea! It puts everyone who uses our sidewalks at risk of being hit by these machines. Sidewalks should be used only by pedestrians -- not delivery vehicles or machines.

We need people to deliver items, not machines.

And -- who will be legally liable when these machines injure people? The business whose items are being delivered? The business who made these robots? The city which allowed the robots to use its sidewalks and streets? Big can of worms here.

The Menlo Park City council should tell Starship Technologies "No -- these robots do not belong anywhere in Menlo Park. Ever. Our decision is final." And our City Council should not waste any more of its precious time on bad ideas such as delivery robots.

1 person likes this
Posted by pvrez
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 29, 2016 at 11:39 am

go for it - what could possibly go wrong

5 people like this
Posted by Clunge
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 30, 2016 at 11:45 am

Will they have 4 wheel drive to help them handle the horrible sidewalks - cracks, potholed and uneven from unattended tree roots?

2 people like this
Posted by Perro Grande
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 30, 2016 at 2:48 pm

My dog is going to attack. I'm betting on her vs the robot. I think I will order some croissants delivered to my door and see what happens. This is going to be fun!

15 people like this
Posted by Henry
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 30, 2016 at 3:08 pm

Hi everyone, Henry from Starship Technologies here. Thank you for all of your comments so far, it's always interesting to hear people's thoughts. We want to assist the local community with our delivery robots and we want you to understand and have access to the benefits. In answer to some of your concerns -

1) The robots will only go on the sidewalks. Yes, the city does not have 100% sidewalk converage, but it is still enough to serve a majority of the local residents with our new technology. The robot can successfully navigate around parked cars and deal with rough, uneven sidewalks.
2) There is no security risk as only trusted people can open and unlock the robot. We want to work with local businesses and bigger companies that serve local businesses. We're interested in food and grocery delivery only!
3) Our friendly robots only travel at a max speed of 4mph and have not had a single accident after 11,000 miles of testing on real sidewalks - in much busier places than Menlo Park. It is highly unlikely a robot would bump into you. The robots take up as much space as a pedestrian. Our aim is to take cars off the road, to help with the traffic and congestion problem as well as reducing pollution. Each robot takes, on average, 10 cars off the road.
4) The robots have 6 wheel drive so they can climb curbs and deal with uneven surfaces, including tree branches!
5) We have had thousands of experiences with dogs and no attacks yet, maybe we can deliver your dog some treats and they can make friends!

Thanks again for all of your comments, and we hope to offer the benefits of our delivery service to you very soon. Also please feel free to contact me personally at with any further questions. Henry

3 people like this
Posted by VC
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Oct 30, 2016 at 6:04 pm

Dumb idea. Who has liability insurance? You or Menlo Park City?

7 people like this
Posted by Henry
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 30, 2016 at 6:47 pm

Hi VC, Starship Technologies has public liability insurance. Many thanks

Like this comment
Posted by Roberto
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 31, 2016 at 5:01 pm

Roberto is a registered user.

@Henry: Welcome! as you can see many people here in MP live with FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt). Understandable, yet they will add comments that proves they do not research, simply assume the worse. "Does it have 4 wheels?", well the picture shows 6, and their web site shows... and the comments will go on.
MP is a place of many people with many backgrounds. those of us that have moved to embrace "newfangled things" like computers, automatic windows, etc., appreciate you and your company giving us a try.

Like this comment
Posted by Driver
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 1, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Well done council... let's put some drivers out of work.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 1, 2016 at 3:34 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Look at the air pollution being saved. Wonderful ideal.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 2, 2016 at 11:28 am

Robots are nothing but a pox on society when they displace working people on jobs that are not inherently hazardous for human beings.

Why is Trump so popular? Part of it is certainly the effect of robots and a society in which the elites, including technologists and technocrats, couldn't care less about the people put out of work by their toxic love affair with disruption and globalization.

God help the robot that comes to my door.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 2, 2016 at 12:54 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

@ Joe: typical Trump supporter comment. The Robot makes deliveries on demand. Try doing something to the robot and see what happens.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 2, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Because I feel deeply for the working man and the working woman, you call me a Trump supporter?

Wow. You've got some thinking to do about stereotypes and whether it's worth it to allow them to hang around in your mind.

2 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 2, 2016 at 3:24 pm

I am sure that the Robots will be nicer than the people that run Mademoiselle Colette. Nothing like paying $5 for a latte and getting scowled at by the barista. Terrible, terrible service there.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 14, 2016 at 9:27 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

While Menlo Park dithers Redwood City decides:

"REDWOOD CITY (KRON)—Redwood City officials approved a pilot program this week that allows robots to deliver groceries and restaurant food to homes and businesses.

Starship Technologies Inc. will launch the service with 20 robots.

It will begin next month and last for nine months."

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Feb 24, 2017 at 10:39 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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