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Robby the last-mile delivery robot gets an update

By some estimates, 80 percent of all items will soon be delivered autonomously, many by last-mile machines like this one

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A last-mile delivery robot named Robby, which has been undergoing real-world testing in California, just got a facelift.

Robby 2 has a more robust drivetrain (necessary for the Bay Area's hilly terrain and terrible sidewalks) and a sleek new body that's supposed to give it "a clean and yet warm, inviting look," according to a spokesperson.

Considering an older version of Robby looked like a cooler on hardware store casters, the update is welcome.

With San Francisco residents tossing Bird electric scooters in the bay and hurling rocks at Google buses, it's no surprise Robby Technologies, the company behind the robot, is keen to make its machines as appealing as possible to the public.

The city has heavily restricted use of delivery robots to specific defined corridors, and humans still need to accompany the systems as they undergo real-world trials.

The idea behind Robby and the slew of other urban delivery bots from companies like Starship Technologies and Marble is to take humans and traffic out of last-mile fulfillment.

Delivery robots are expected to make up a significant portion of the global autonomous robot market, which Zion Market Research projects will be worth $12 billion by 2024. In January, Amazon filed a patent for its own last-mile robot, accelerating the development race and bringing increased investor attention to the sector.

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Robby 1.0 looked a lot like a wayward cooler.

In addition to technology development and testing, firms in the space have been keen build strategic partnerships with customer-facing companies. Robby Technologies has partnered with Doordash, Instacart, and Postmates, for example, and its test robots have logged over 4,000 miles delivering food to customers.

In a sign that the technology is maturing quickly, the company just brought on Apple alum Saumil Nanavanti to head up business development.

Under the hood, Robby 2 has a suite of infrared cameras, allowing it to navigate at night. The new design is water and weather resistant, which helps on those wet San Francisco days.

Like delivery bots from better-known Starship Technologies, Robby 2 also has six wheels, allowing it to climb curbs and traverse rough stretches of sidewalk.

It has a range of more than 20 miles on a charge and can be tracked to near-centimeter accuracy, an important consideration for a valuable piece of technology.