Monday, November 29, 2021

‘Integrated’ taxis take to the road

Can an artificial intelligence solution solve the problem of packing strangers into makeshift spaces?

Students at Aberystwyth University are experimenting with a new kind of robot taxi driver – one which will travel between your campus and a shop or restaurant, wherever you are, and deliver your food or drink.

The ExCel Exomerex was unveiled in London last week at an event that included panels on artificial intelligence, sustainability and advances in computing technology.

Philippe Nenni, Dr Andrew Jones and Jacob Harding (University of Aberystwyth, Saint Martin’s College, Southampton, University of Surrey and Bath University) were awarded a £1.3m biennially for the Exomerex project.

The team says their project – which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – is a step towards solving the last mile of deliveries by autonomous cars in the public transport system.

“We want to make the journey from home to the shops, restaurant or workplaces less stressful for the consumer,” Mr Harding told the BBC, adding that they are also trying to improve business performance.

“We know we don’t have the time to wait for delivery, so we want to make this journey quicker. It’s a ‘seamless’ delivery which can be made to the places where the consumer wants it or chooses to go for an afternoon or evening snack, and to keep them walking out to where the next drop-off will happen.”

The Exomerex, which will be revealed to journalists this week, starts at £30 for delivery of a 600ml bottle of juice, up to £65 for delivery of a 3L box of chocolates. The cost, the team says, is only payable by customers who use the robots in the first three weeks of operation.

The Exomerex robot can complete the journey in 30 minutes, slightly faster than a Fiat 500 running on motorway petrol. But consider this: if you buy your lunch in the supermarket, your day ends at 6pm. If you are in the area by 7pm and still without a hankering for some chocolate, it will take 45 minutes to come back to you. Add to that the embarrassment if you are in a rush and find yourself behind the Exomerex as it makes its way back. In comparison, your food is already delivered to your door by 5pm.

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