February 21, 2020 at 8:48 pm PST | by John Paul King
Postmates wants to ‘Serve’ West Hollywood

Image via Postmates

The future is on its way to West Hollywood, and thanks to Postmates, it can be delivered right to your doorstep.

The popular all-purpose delivery service is unveiling Serve, the world’s first robotic delivery device ever to be created from the ground up by an on-demand delivery company. After seven years (and millions of deliveries), the company realized they were “in a unique position” to develop an autonomous delivery vehicle, according to the official announcement on the Postmates blog.

The popular app-driven service approached the City of West Hollywood to implement a pilot program to test the new automated delivery system. Outreach to the community showed that 90 percent of WeHo residents were in favor, and a report detailing the pilot program will be presented at the March 2, 2020 City Council meeting. After that – pending City Council approval, the pilot will last six months and will operate 3 robots in the community.

Based on Postmates’ extensive delivery experience, their research of customer interactions, and tests of multiple autonomous delivery modes, Serve features a patented Socially-Aware-Navigation system that works with the proprietary Postmates software “that customers around the country know and love.”

That doesn’t mean a robot is going to be delivering your crosstown rush packages or taking employment opportunities away from the gig-economy workers who need them. The idea behind Serve is efficiency, and with that in mind the roving devices are designed to work in conjunction with the existing Postmates fleet to move small objects over short distances, running on electricity and moving at walking speed, as it routs deliveries away from congested streets and onto sidewalks.

“By developing an in-house, design-first approach, Serve was built to respect cities, meet customer demands, and help local businesses sell even more,” the announcement declares. “By leveraging data to model the modern way in which food and goods move around our cities, we were able to identify even greater efficiencies when we augmented our existing fleet of more than 350,000 Postmates with rovers — with the eventual vision to move those goods at zero cost.”

Some of the rovers’ nifty features include:

  • Socially aware navigation
  • Advanced sensors including Velodyne Lidar and a NVIDIA XAVIER processor
  • A 50-lb. carrying capacity and 30 mile range on a single charge
  • Touchscreen and camera interface
  • “Dynamic lighting in the eyes” and a turn signal

Postmates says the new rovers embody their vision for the future of delivery, but that they also reflect the company’s own set of principles.

Serve is intended to work “in harmony with people,” freeing up Postmates drivers to do more deliveries while also eliminating the need to navigate dense urban neighborhoods and search for parking. Utilizing external partnerships with automotive companies and their our own in-house robotics supply chain, they have tested delivery routes on sidewalks across numerous states “without impacting a single Postmate,” the company claims, “while helping retailers sell even more during peak periods and reducing car congestion.”

The company also says it believes “that deploying new technologies can be done by prioritizing the equity and inclusion of all communities — from our hungriest customers to our most avid pedestrians.” To that end, Serve prototypes have been testing at senior living communities in Northern California, learning to operate “with people in mind” by refining its navigation technology to “respect our elderly or disabled neighbors on sidewalks that people use daily.”

Postmates sees Serve as part of a much-needed evolution, in which the modernization of city infrastructure can enable “new forms of mobility,” as well as cutting down on congestion – something for which the company says they are working toward with advocacy groups such as SPUR.

“We’re committed to a vision of abundance,” says the official statement, “in which we maximize space for everyone to walk, ride bicycles, scooters, and even drive.”

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