This week saw the official launch of Kar-go – an automated last-mile delivery bot from British start-up Academy of Robotics that aims to revolutionise the burgeoning home delivery market.
Fully-electric Kar-go aims to offer logistics providers an autonomous, clean, quiet and efficient option, bringing delivery times down and opening the door for round-the-clock urban operation.
Focusing on the delivery of small shoebox-sized parcels, where delivery costs can often account for a third of the parcel’s value, the Kar-go could relieve increasing pressure on margins for both retailers and logistics companies.
Real-world trials have now begun in West London, where Kar-go is delivering prescriptions from a local pharmacy to patients across the community.
If all goes to plan, we could see thousands of Kar-go pods operating across the country as soon as 2022.
TNB caught up with the serial entrepreneur behind the project, William Sachiti, CEO and founder of Academy of Robotics, to find out more about the project, the thinking behind it and the company’s ambitions.
TNB: What exactly is Kar-go?
WS: Kar-go is a complete autonomous delivery solution designed to address the problem of last-mile delivery. The Kar-go Delivery Bot is a custom-built, self-driving delivery vehicle, containing a proprietary package management system, which can sort packages on the move.
Kar-go uses AI based on advanced neural networks to remove up to 90% of the cost associated with the last mile of delivery. Unlike many autonomous vehicles, Kar-go can drive on unmarked roads making it perfect for solving the challenge of last mile deliveries in rural and suburban areas as well as urban environments.
TNB: How did the idea come about?
WS: I’m a typical serial entrepreneur type and I try to solve problems.
At the time I thought that one of the biggest problems in the world was a trillion-dollar industry, last-mile logistics and getting things from point A to point B.
Originally I thought we were going to fix the problem with drones but I realised that, although the tech could get us there, there would be no way of doing it without the tech becoming an absolute nuisance for society.
The path of least resistance was to focus on cars and the road network and that’s when Kar-go was born.
TNB: What stage are you at right now?
WS: The first Kar-go is on the roads right now doing deliveries around the London Borough of Hounslow.
We’re focusing first on arrival procedures and the telemetry issues around parking and location because that’s the most important thing for logistics and deliveries.
For most companies driving on the roads is no longer as big a problem as people think. It’s more what happens when that car arrives at your house.
If you let a consumer decide, they’ll have you deliver the wrong way down a one-way system. So, we need to figure that out first by looking at all the things like: whether we double park, can we double park, are there yellow lines, do we need to get special dispensation to pull up for example.
TNB: Is there any human intervention during trials?
WS: In the UK there’s a set of guidelines that state that an autonomous vehicle can be on the road if it ticks three boxes – first it must be road legal, second it must be fully insured and finally a skilled operator must be able to take control of the vehicle at any time. During the trials we have a skilled operator in the vehicle who can take control if needed and also a remote command hub that can watch over what the vehicle is doing at any time. They will be gradually increasing the level of autonomy throughout the trials with the intention that the vehicles will be able to operate autonomously for most of the time.
We’re currently working towards the creation of a command hub in a van that can look after a fleet of Kar-go, meaning the vehicles can be deployed anywhere at any time.
TNB: How does the vehicle actually make deliveries? Is human intervention needed?
WS: There’s a web of robotics in the Kar-go to sort and ready packages for delivery and customers will have an app on their phone that notifies them when the package has arrived at their house. They’ll then go outside, find the Kar-go and use the app to unlock their package. It’s all very simple.
TNB: What about operating costs, charging times and payloads etc?
WS: Kar-go is fully electric and runs at a cost of just 1.2p per mile.
It can travel at speeds around 60mph and takes just 1 hour to charge up to 70% and can be fully charged in around 3 hours.
Because it’s quiet, Kar-go is capable of working 24/7 and covering 60 miles (more than the average daily delivery round) fully loaded on a single charge.
We’re focusing on packages that are shoebox-sized or smaller, which accounts for about 80% of parcel deliveries, and based on that, each Kar-go can carry 48 packages.
This means Kar-go will typically deliver more than current average rates of around 30-40 packages of that size in a day.
Importantly, Kar-go is not bound by time. Because it’s autonomous and operates silently, it can make deliveries 24-hours-a-day. This means Kar-go can go back and forth to the depot several times a day and deliver lots more than 48 packages. However, for these trials, they are using a system designed to carry just 6 packages.
TNB: What timeframe are you working towards?
WS: By the end of next year we expect to have more than 100 Kar-go in real-world operation but in 2022 we’ll be looking to really ramp up production. Then we’re talking about really large numbers and entire fleets.