No, we’re not here to declare the end of the human race and see robots take over – we can leave that part of the fight to Will Smith. But if we all take a look around, we see that robots are actually taking over something: our streets.
First, we started talking about Artificial Intelligence and public services, and in July 2017 we saw the first self-driving busses surfing the asphalt concrete of Tallinn. At the same time, Starship Technologies was already born by then and had started testing small delivery robots moving on the sidewalks of our neighbourhoods. Now, Cleveron’s latest product is set to finally give a push to a long-awaited transformation in the sector of last mile deliveries.
More questions arise. Is it a self-driving car? Is it a robot? Is it a Transformer? There’s a bit of truth in some of these claims – last one aside – and much more in others. But Arno Kütt, CEO of Cleveron, certainly has many reasons to be happy this 2018: Cleveron was named Company of the Year in the last Estonian Entrepreneurship Awards, and by the end of December they’ll have installed seven hundred Cleveron 401 in Walmart centers all across the US (covering 40% of the whole population of the country), as well as several Cleveron 402 in Zara stores all over Europe. Now, the company launched its first model of a robot courier at the Robotex International conference, held at the end of November 2018 in Tallinn. “We were able to show our latest prototype to the world and the conference, and the robot courier was also part of the expo. It was a hit amongst the visitors and in the media”, Kütt says.
A strong and independent robot courier
The features that make Cleveron’s robot courier stand out from other similar solutions are the complete autonomy in the act of moving around and delivering a parcel, and that it doesn’t require interactions with a human even when placing a package in the personal parcel locker. Essentially, it’s a strong and independent robot that doesn’t need you to be home when getting to your place, because it will carry out every single part of the task without the need for any assistance. As the parcel is placed in the personal locker, you get a message on your smartphone signaling that you can go check your post box, and that the parcel will be kept there, safe and sound, as long as you wish.
“The ultimate goal with the robot courier and all other Cleveron’s products” Kütt continues, “is to give you time – automate the last mile delivery processes in a way that makes the parcel retrieval fast and convenient for the consumer. Waiting for a courier to bring you your parcel “between noon and 18:00” or “in the afternoon” is not time-saving. But you don’t even have to be home when the parcels are delivered by the robot courier to your personal parcel lockers. We are already piloting the personal parcel lockers in certain areas of Estonia where they are being tested, to develop them further. They hold regular mail, parcels, and food deliveries,” Kütt explains.
All the attention and rewards that Cleveron is enjoying, however, should not come as a surprise. We’re not just talking about a company that has ten years of determination and experience over its shoulders – that, alone, may tell very little about what businesses are aiming at. Cleveron is looking forward because yes, Walmart and the world’s largest fashion retailer are outstanding case studies, but you can be a protagonist in the world of tomorrow if you actively contribute to create it, to realize a vision, to participate in making it real day by day. As Kütt says, “we are concentrating on the possible dreams of our clients, creating products our clients don’t even know they need yet.”
Driving the change in e-commerce
The exponential growth that took a company based in the Estonian town of Viljandi to the US and beyond can be framed, at this point, as part of a process of development in action in the field of robotics, as well as in deliveries and e-commerce. Scaling up from Estonia is not a problem – customers of the company, such as the already mentioned Walmart, also have their headquarters in small urban areas. Understanding which direction the future is taking, or the impact that we want to have in a changing global market, is the real challenge. So how can a robot courier influence the way we buy things and we go shopping?
“Not only we won’t have to wait for the parcels to arrive, but last mile delivery will also become cheaper in this way, mostly since the robot courier will replace the human labour put into such tasks. This, in turn, helps e-commerce grow even more – it will be cheap since we will eliminate labour costs, and extremely convenient too since parcels will be waiting for you safely in your own locker.
Self-driving couriers, like self-driving cars, will become a reality quite quickly.
It is also clear, though, that self-driving cars will very likely transport parcels before humans”, Kütt warns. But with regard to the dilemmas concerning liability and responsibility in the case of accidents and crashes, Cleveron is not afraid to put it quite frankly: you keep people on the road safe and sacrifice the parcels.
From man to the robot, a transition has already started. From robot to man, packages will be delivered faster and safer than ever before. Cleveron is shaping future scenarios, but it’s not doing so only with product development: education matters, particularly in the shift towards a more knowledge-based economy. Tartu University, TalTech, the Estonian Student Satellite Foundation – all these partners for scholarships and cooperation reaffirm the company’s commitment to participate in the making of a digital Estonia. You won’t have to look too far from your home to see what it means: if you have doubts, just look at your mailbox.