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A City Locks Down to Fight Coronavirus, but Robots Come and Go


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A Starship robot making a delivery in Milton Keynes, U.K.

The sudden usefulness of the robots to people staying in their homes is a tantalizing hint of what the machines could one day accomplish at least under ideal conditions.

Credit: Ben Quinton/The New York Times

If any place was prepared for quarantine, it was Milton Keynes. Two years before the pandemic, a start-up called Starship Technologies deployed a fleet of rolling delivery robots in the small city about 50 miles northwest of London.

The squat six-wheeled robots shuttled groceries and dinner orders to homes and offices. As the coronavirus spread, Starship shifted the fleet even further into grocery deliveries. Locals like Emma Maslin could buy from the corner store with no human contact.

"There's no social interaction with a robot," Ms. Maslin said.

The sudden usefulness of the robots to people staying in their homes is a tantalizing hint of what the machines could one day accomplish — at least under ideal conditions. Milton Keynes, with a population of 270,000 and a vast network of bicycle paths, is perfectly suited to rolling robots. Demand has been so high in recent weeks, some residents have spent days trying to schedule a delivery.

 

From The New York Times
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