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Coke by robot


Coke by robot

Ian Kerr

Soon visitors to amusement park Alton Towers may no longer need to queue for soft drinks. Oh thank goodness space-age technology is being used to solve this terrible problem afflicting society.

Well, let’s turn the sarcasm off and look at what’s really happening.

Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) is piloting robotic technology at Alton Towers Resort to help deliver beverages to customers.

During the trial, the robot will collect products from the Alton Towers distribution centre and deliver them to drinks outlets across the park, using artificial intelligence to manoeuvre around the thousands of visitors during the peak summer season.

This is actually interesting - how will delivery robots cope with such a high-traffic location? And in an area bigger than a footpath?

The robot travels at walking speed (just under 5kmh) and can cover distances of up to 50km. It navigates using GPS technology, sight, as well as sound and motion sensors. Laser sensors are used to judge the distance to potential obstacles, enabling it to stop safely and avoid collisions. It uses satellite images for navigation, developed with the support of the European Space Agency.

This is one of three pilots taking place in industrial, retail and pedestrian environments – to capture data and improve the quality of the software.

“We are trialling technology that could enable 24/7 on-demand logistic services and eventually be something that can be scaled up to larger vehicles.” - Leendert Den Hollander, Vice President and General Manager at Coca-Cola European Partners

Other applications

Some interesting ideas have been floated for other applications of this robot delivery system:

“Who knows, in the future guests may be able to order drinks from the queue line to be delivered by robots when they finish a ride, or we could see automated room service deliveries across our 700 hotel rooms.” - Neil Crittenden, Commercial Director at Alton Towers Resort

Automated room service isn’t a new idea - a selection of hotels in Asia have been experimenting in this area for some years.

And delivering drinks to people at the end of their ride seems like an abuse of the technology.

But while the robots are re-stocking kiosks, they could be monitoring the environment for footpaths in need of repair, air quality, and performing other functions we usually associated with smart cities.

So what will the public think of these robots? Ground-based delivery robots (including robots from Starship) are already on the streets of the delightfully flat town of Milton Keynes and some other parts of the UK. While UK residents might think delivery robots here and there on public footpaths are cute, is there a tipping point at which the proliferation of robots leads to a backlash?

“Delivery robots, aka AGVs, will become a more and more important part of the last mile, be it for grocery or parcels. This will come as the technology evolves and acceptance grows… and labour becomes a more and more elusive asset. Companies that are in the avant-garde will benefit from these developments.” - Marek Różycki, Managing Partner, Last Mile Experts

Obesity in the UK

On an unrelated note, earlier this year the UK’s National Health Service released its latest report on obesity, physical activity and diet. Some, er, highlights:

  • 29% of adults are classified as obese

  • 20% of year 6 children are classified as obese

  • 10,600 hospital admissions in 2017/18 were directly attributable to obesity

  • There were 711,000 hospital admissions in 2017/18 where obesity was a factor

Perhaps customers would be better off walking to the kiosk to buy their sugary soft drink, instead of having a robot deliver the drinks to them.

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