Australian Post’s new delivery robot an ‘esky’ on wheels, says expert

Australia Post have launched a new parcel delivery service using an autonomous robot that experts say is of limited use and resembles an “esky” on wheels.

A four-week trial of the “mobile parcel locker” began on Monday in the Brisbane suburb of New Farm. The small self-driving container, nicknamed “Billy the Box”, takes packages door to door and unlocks via a unique code that is texted to users.

For the next month, residents who miss a delivery during business hours will be given the option to have their parcel redelivered in the evening by the robot.

But the prototype must be accompanied by a human Australia Post employee, and can only hold one parcel at a time.

Queensland University of Technology robotics expert Peter Corke told the New Daily the current model’s rudimentary technology raised concerns.

“How does it cross the road?” he asked. “How do you stop it from being picked up and put on a truck and taken away?

“To require a robot and a human to deliver one parcel when one guy in a truck can deliver a number of parcels without a hitch is not worth it … At face value it doesn’t sound very useful.”

Australia Post’s chief technology officer, Tien-Ti Mak, said the robot was designed to help Australians receive parcels out of business hours, when they are more likely to be home.

“We know that receiving a ‘sorry we missed you’ card can be frustrating. So we’re looking at new ways to redeliver parcels after hours,” he said.

Mak said New Farm was chosen because its residents were some of Australia’s biggest online shoppers, buying 19% of their items online compared with the national average of 11.5%.

“This after-hours mobile locker trial in New Farm is the first step to gauging whether there is community support or demand to receive parcels in this way.”

Mak told Channel Nine the robot would be hard to pick up and steal because it weighed roughly 100kg. Other safety features include LED lights, cameras to record its journeys, and Roomba-like sensors to detect and avoid obstacles.

The robot can drive on all surfaces, and was shown in videos going up a slight driveway incline.

When asked, a spokesman for Australia Post said there were no indication of when the robot could operate without a human minder, or carry more than one parcel.