The future! A faraway, elusive place, that bastard. Like Eddie Izzard once said: “Those doors that go swoosh in Star Trek? We got them now! And that’s about it.” Now, we’ve got another detail of that distant future: A robot that is the R2-D2 to the German postal service’s Luke Skywalkers.
Its name is PostBot, and it was designed by French company Effidence with “considerable help from the delivery staff of Deutsche Post,” according to the German equivalent to the U.S. Postal Service. The electric-powered robot can carry up to 330 pounds of letters and packages through the city, using artificial intelligence to follow the legs of its mail carrier through the entire delivery route, navigating obstacles in any weather condition. According to Deutsche Post, “the control elements have been placed on both sides of the unit to promote good ergonomics for the [workers’] back and joints.” What’s more, this thing is fast. Check out this video:
Right now, the company is doing a six week test run of PostBot in the German city of Bad Hersfeld. The results will help the robot’s creators make adjustments to the design, and then roll out another test–with the eventual objective of deploying PostBots nationwide once everything is good to go.
According to Jürgen Gerdes, the CEO of the Post-eCommerce-Parcel division at Deutsche Post DHL group, the company is “constantly working on new solutions to allow [its] employees to handle this physically challenging work even as they continue to age.” He claims that the company wants to add robots to the existing arsenal of postal e-Bikes and e-Trikes and he hopes that the PostBot trial phase will give them “important insights into how [the company] can further develop the delivery process for [their] employees.”
It’s refreshing to see a company using robots to help humans rather than fully replace them, although PostBot’s current design may also be the result of technological limiters. We still don’t have the necessary hardware and software magicks needed to prepare autonomous robots like PostBot for all the topographies and situations in could encounter on its routes. Though those capabilities will be necessary before a robot can replace a real-life postal worker, there’s little doubt that fully autonomous robots will deliver packages to humans before long–at least for a few years before they decide to kill everyone (“tip better the next time, Steve!” *ZAP!*).
PostBot may not seem like a major breakthrough for people impatient for a fully autonomous world, in a world where Jeff Vader dreams of drone delivery systems and Darth Musk fantasizes about giant spaceliners, it’s refreshing to see an actual piece of the future materializing in real life–especially one that helps people.