US supermarket uses delivery robots amid pandemic

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    Washington, April 9 (IANS) Since the end of March, a US supermarket has deployed six robots to help deliver purchases, in an effort to comply with the social distancing measures to mitigate the novel coronavirus’ impact.

    Tracy Stannard, the owner of the Broad Branch Market, told Efe news that these devices, which resemble a portable refrigerator with six wheels,deliver the orders their customers make through a mobile application in one hour, although they also accept email orders.
    Stannard says the area’s residents in northwest Washington, Maryland, are delighted with the system.
    “They love it, I mean they really want them (robots), everybody just calls for the robot, it doesn’t matter what goes in it,” she said.
    A condition to place orders is that customers do not reside more than a mile from the establishment.
    Stannard closely watches the orders before loading them onto the white robots, which line up at the exit, waiting to fulfill their daily tasks.
    Once a customer requests the purchase through the application, the store employees load the items into one of the robots, which immediately goes diligently down the sidewalks to carry out a home delivery.
    Stannard said the initiative has been such a success, that people constantly send her photographs and videos of the devices. They attract attention thanks to their shape, autonomy and the sensor lights, which resembles that of androids from science fiction films such as “Star Wars”.
    However, not everything is simple and the owner admitted the system has limitations, since not all orders can be delivered with robots: For example, she said there are sometimes “products that are larger than what fits insides”.
    The robots of Broad Branch Market are part of Californian company Starship that was going to be deployed by numerous university campuses nationwide until the suspension of classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, theirs were going to be destined at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Virginia.
    With a total of 431,838 confirmed coronavirus cases, the US on Thursday accounted for the highest number of infections in the world. Its death toll stood at 14,817, according to figures by the Washington-based Johns Hopkins University.

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