Should robots be able to deliver booze?

Age-restricted items present an interesting regulatory and commercial challenge for autonomous delivery.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Starship's autonomous robot delivers on college campus.


A prolific early contender in the autonomous delivery race has forged a partnership with an authentication company. The reason? There's a big market for the delivery of age-restricted items.

There's a larger market story behind this partnership. The autonomous delivery wars have officially commenced, and now there's a race underway among last-mile delivery robot developers and service providers to forge strategic partnerships and carve-out service niches. Recently autonomous delivery company Nuro announced a partnership with 7-Eleven to deliver the convenience brand's products to customers' doors. Overall, the market for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs) is forecasted to generate over $10bn by 2023, according to Interact Analysis

This is why the conversation has inevitably turned toward age-restricted items, such as alcohol and other sensitive deliveries that legally require identity verification, such as prescription drugs. Those spaces represent a huge delivery market, but only if the already complex regulatory paradigm for delivery robots can accommodate one more complication: foolproof identity authentication.

Enter Veriff, an authentication provider that offers technologies like face match biometric analysis, identity document verification, and proof of address capture. Veriff will add an extra layer of safety and security to Starship's autonomous delivery fleet, making it the first company in the world to create a fully autonomous end to end delivery service for age-restricted items. 

"Partnering with Veriff allows Starship to autonomously deliver age-restricted items in the UK and beyond as we continue to take on new markets and stores at a rapid pace," said Ryan Tuohy, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Sales at Starship Technologies. "We are excited to work with Veriff in providing the highest quality Identity Verification solutions for our users to ensure their safety and peace of mind on our trusted platform."

Of course, problems abound with the scheme. For one, delivery robots are not in wide use thanks to the current regulatory paradigm, which is patchwork, often hyperlocal, and in many cases only now on the verge of being created. Delivery firms are being very careful to prove their technology in manageable testbeds, such as college campuses, rather than rush into cities prematurely and incur regulatory backlash (see rideshare and electric scooters).

Age-restricted items add complexity to the already complex situation. I recently connected with Susan Lang, Founder & CEO of XIL Health, a complex drug pricing analytics company, about the prospects of delivering medicine via drones.

"Most likely, companies experimenting with drone deliveries will exclude controlled substances and avoid any class two drugs because of the sensitivities involved," says Lang. "One of the biggest challenges is that drone delivery won't work for every type of product, so they need to test to see when it works."

That said, Starship is clearly paving the way for some kind of convenience play involving age-restricted items. The robot bartender has become a trope in the robotics sector, sort of a comical send-up of how robotics technology is being applied to slightly silly use cases. But booze delivery by a robot seems like a real market grab, and Starship is positioning itself to take the lead.

Whether this just means the fake ID will become increasingly complex remains to be seen. Your move, high schoolers.

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