News

Facing financial trouble, Mountain View's downtown businesses turn to delivery bots

A new workforce has been ferrying goods between downtown Mountain View businesses and residents during the county's stay at home order, and they don't even need masks or gloves to stay safe.

San Francisco-based Starship Technologies is deploying its fleet of autonomous delivery robots to pick up goods from at least six businesses and deliver to residents in the surrounding area. The sleek six-wheeled, black-and-white bots have been navigating the city sidewalks alongside pedestrians to make deliveries at a time when sales have plunged for downtown restaurants and retail shops.

Though city staff cleared the way for Starship to operate in Mountain View weeks ago, the Mountain View City Council voted on May 5 to formally allow Starship to launch its commercial service on city streets, effectively reviving the city's delivery device pilot program. Under the city's rules, no more than 10 bots can make deliveries at any one time, and each company has to seek approval to operate for a maximum of nine months.

It isn't the first time automatons have circulated on and around Castro Street, with a similar program launched by Google last year. The company ran a three-month pilot in which residents in the greater downtown area could return books and library materials to the Mountain View Library using delivery robots. The pilot ran into "no issues," according to city staff.

The bots came back in response to the new coronavirus, which has forced residents to stay home and for businesses to either shutter or operate on a drastically reduced scale. Though restaurants and some retail businesses have largely turned to delivery services to survive, it comes with safety concerns and a growing appetite for "contactless" deliveries to prevent the spread of the virus.

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Henry Harris-Burland, Starship's marketing vice president, said the robots can provide no-contact food from grocery stores and restaurants to people who are stuck at home -- particularly the elderly and other vulnerable populations most at risk. The bots used to be seen as a convenience, he said, but now they're seen as essential.

"The community is asking us to expand quickly, and has been sharing their stories with us of how helpful the robots have been during this time," Harris-Burland said.

Local businesses are struggling during the shelter order, particularly restaurants fighting for federal relief. At least six businesses -- Ava's Market, Umai Sushi, Vitality Bowl, Doppio Zero, Crepevine and St. Stephens Green -- have turned to Starship for help, and will be using the company's bots to deliver food to downtown residents.

Residents in the greater downtown area, bounded by El Camino Real, West Evelyn Avenue, Calderon Avenue and Shoreline Boulevard, are able to use to use Starship's mobile app to place and receive orders from participating businesses. Customers can unlock the lid and take out their orders, and Starship is reportedly taking steps to ensure the bots themselves stick to sanitary guidelines between deliveries.

Delivery bots are outfitted with cameras and sensors to roll along city sidewalks and stop at driveways and crosswalks, while also navigating foot traffic along their path. Though council members swiftly agreed to approve the Starship service last week, Councilwoman Alison Hicks said she had some reservations about robots taking up sidewalks meant for people.

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"While I think it's fabulous, I want to make sure that sidewalks continue to work well for pedestrians, runners and people in wheelchairs," she said.

City officials said they signed an agreement with Starship using its authority granted under the city's coronavirus emergency declaration, allowing the business to operate before the council's approval. The company had previously used its delivery bots on private property in Mountain View -- specifically the Intuit campus in North Bayshore -- which did not require city approval.

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Facing financial trouble, Mountain View's downtown businesses turn to delivery bots

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Mon, May 11, 2020, 12:30 pm

A new workforce has been ferrying goods between downtown Mountain View businesses and residents during the county's stay at home order, and they don't even need masks or gloves to stay safe.

San Francisco-based Starship Technologies is deploying its fleet of autonomous delivery robots to pick up goods from at least six businesses and deliver to residents in the surrounding area. The sleek six-wheeled, black-and-white bots have been navigating the city sidewalks alongside pedestrians to make deliveries at a time when sales have plunged for downtown restaurants and retail shops.

Though city staff cleared the way for Starship to operate in Mountain View weeks ago, the Mountain View City Council voted on May 5 to formally allow Starship to launch its commercial service on city streets, effectively reviving the city's delivery device pilot program. Under the city's rules, no more than 10 bots can make deliveries at any one time, and each company has to seek approval to operate for a maximum of nine months.

It isn't the first time automatons have circulated on and around Castro Street, with a similar program launched by Google last year. The company ran a three-month pilot in which residents in the greater downtown area could return books and library materials to the Mountain View Library using delivery robots. The pilot ran into "no issues," according to city staff.

The bots came back in response to the new coronavirus, which has forced residents to stay home and for businesses to either shutter or operate on a drastically reduced scale. Though restaurants and some retail businesses have largely turned to delivery services to survive, it comes with safety concerns and a growing appetite for "contactless" deliveries to prevent the spread of the virus.

Henry Harris-Burland, Starship's marketing vice president, said the robots can provide no-contact food from grocery stores and restaurants to people who are stuck at home -- particularly the elderly and other vulnerable populations most at risk. The bots used to be seen as a convenience, he said, but now they're seen as essential.

"The community is asking us to expand quickly, and has been sharing their stories with us of how helpful the robots have been during this time," Harris-Burland said.

Local businesses are struggling during the shelter order, particularly restaurants fighting for federal relief. At least six businesses -- Ava's Market, Umai Sushi, Vitality Bowl, Doppio Zero, Crepevine and St. Stephens Green -- have turned to Starship for help, and will be using the company's bots to deliver food to downtown residents.

Residents in the greater downtown area, bounded by El Camino Real, West Evelyn Avenue, Calderon Avenue and Shoreline Boulevard, are able to use to use Starship's mobile app to place and receive orders from participating businesses. Customers can unlock the lid and take out their orders, and Starship is reportedly taking steps to ensure the bots themselves stick to sanitary guidelines between deliveries.

Delivery bots are outfitted with cameras and sensors to roll along city sidewalks and stop at driveways and crosswalks, while also navigating foot traffic along their path. Though council members swiftly agreed to approve the Starship service last week, Councilwoman Alison Hicks said she had some reservations about robots taking up sidewalks meant for people.

"While I think it's fabulous, I want to make sure that sidewalks continue to work well for pedestrians, runners and people in wheelchairs," she said.

City officials said they signed an agreement with Starship using its authority granted under the city's coronavirus emergency declaration, allowing the business to operate before the council's approval. The company had previously used its delivery bots on private property in Mountain View -- specifically the Intuit campus in North Bayshore -- which did not require city approval.

Comments

Common sense
Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2020 at 12:42 pm
Common sense, Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2020 at 12:42 pm
4 people like this

I don't quite understand the "soon be" and "will be" phrasing in this article.

These deliveries have been happening in Old Mountain View -- the neighborhood described in the story -- for four weeks now, generating a volume of discussion and anecdotes on local electronic media.


Stupid Question
Bailey Park
on May 11, 2020 at 3:42 pm
Stupid Question, Bailey Park
on May 11, 2020 at 3:42 pm
13 people like this

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Old Mtn View
Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2020 at 4:10 pm
Old Mtn View, Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2020 at 4:10 pm
3 people like this

It is kind of a stupid question, sort of

If you live in an expensive neighborhood it doesn’t necessarily mean you have lots of cash or that you even own the home.

Some people live in houses their family has had for a long time. Many people have million dollar homes but otherwise do not have a lot of extra income. They work ordinary jobs but just came here 30+ years ago.

I wish they’d roll it out to where I live but I also realize it’s not possible in some areas, mostly because of distance and highways and probably some ahh... jerks... would vandalize it.


New Things
Whisman Station
on May 11, 2020 at 5:33 pm
New Things, Whisman Station
on May 11, 2020 at 5:33 pm
Like this comment

Interesting! It's tough for any business in this crisis, you have to try everything you can. I commend businesses for trying to think outside the box wherever they can to stay viable in this time.


ronewolf
Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2020 at 5:55 pm
ronewolf, Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2020 at 5:55 pm
1 person likes this

Alison Hicks puts up an essential requirement saying, "I want to make sure that sidewalks continue to work well for pedestrians, runners and people in wheelchairs." Absolutely right! So far, I've been on the sidewalks with these bots perhaps 5 times. Each time, the bot was moving very slowly or stopped when people were nearby. Seemed to work fine. But, according to the article (well done, thx!), only 10 of these bots on the move right now. What does it look like if there are 100s? And, would they, in turn, reduce neighborhood auto traffic?


Groot
Willowgate
on May 12, 2020 at 12:56 am
Groot, Willowgate
on May 12, 2020 at 12:56 am
6 people like this

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


MVresident
Rex Manor
on May 12, 2020 at 7:42 am
MVresident, Rex Manor
on May 12, 2020 at 7:42 am
2 people like this

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Covid-Kid
Monta Loma
on May 12, 2020 at 9:19 am
Covid-Kid, Monta Loma
on May 12, 2020 at 9:19 am
10 people like this

Nice! That's 10 delivery humans/drivers out of work.

#NotProudOfMountainView


Steven Nelson
Cuesta Park
on May 12, 2020 at 10:14 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
on May 12, 2020 at 10:14 am
Like this comment

Thanks reporter Kevin. I'd agree with the poster about your generally 'good job' now being the lead reporter on 'the City' beat.


Common sense
Old Mountain View
on May 12, 2020 at 11:13 am
Common sense, Old Mountain View
on May 12, 2020 at 11:13 am
13 people like this

Posted by Covid-Kid, a resident of Monta Loma, 1 hour ago:

"Nice! That's 10 delivery humans/drivers out of work."

Incorrect! No one was making these deliveries before the service began last month from Ava's Downtown Market. And they are basically short-range, small-capacity deliveries (a cubic food of goods moving a few blocks) -- not normally done by car otherwise anyway. This service fills a separate niche.


Oh!
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 12, 2020 at 12:22 pm
Oh!, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 12, 2020 at 12:22 pm
4 people like this

That's called a smack-down ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^


Seth Neumann
Waverly Park
on May 12, 2020 at 2:38 pm
Seth Neumann, Waverly Park
on May 12, 2020 at 2:38 pm
4 people like this

Well it might be a a job gone, but let's say that jobholder worked 30 hrs a week at $15 hour = $450/wk = 1900/month. Could that person really afford to live here? Might a bot be better than having yet another underhoused person in Mt View?


Covid-Kid
Monta Loma
on May 13, 2020 at 7:35 am
Covid-Kid, Monta Loma
on May 13, 2020 at 7:35 am
4 people like this

I know a few workers who live with, at least, four other adults who are also employed. You really dont think $1900.00 a month matters to them and their families?

But you made a good point. Lets ramp up all tech so we can push individuals and their families out of Mt.View.


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