- Starship Technologies co-founder Ahti Heinla told Business Insider that people sometimes kick the company’s food-delivery robots.
- He said the vast majority of interactions with its machines are harmless, but some fall victim to being an “anger management” tool.
- It’s an early insight into how cruel humans could be to robots.
The company behind tiny food delivery robots has admitted that people are kicking its machines – and it’s an early insight into how cruel humans could be to robots.
Starship Technologies was launched in 2014 by Skype cofounders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. It makes 22-inch tall robots that roll along the pavement at 4mph delivering food to people.
Starship is just getting started and this week raised $25 million and appointed Airbnb veteran Lex Bayer as its new CEO. The ambition is to scale up and bring the robots to millions of people around the world.
Heinla told Business Insider that while most people like the robots, there are a few who take exception.
“Some people pass our robot and kick the robot a little bit,” Heinla said. “That’s not really a problem I think, if people have such anger management techniques that’s fine by us, our robot just drives on.”
It’s not the first time Starship robots have encountered antipathy. A source told Business Insider in 2016 that a member of the public once attempted to rip the flag from one of the robots that was out on a delivery.
But Heinla is relaxed about the idea that people might seriously damage the machines. If anyone were to try to give one a real kicking, they are equipped with nine cameras, sirens, and tracking to within an inch.
The good news is that the vast majority of people respond positively to the machines. A spokesperson for Starship Technologies told Business Insider that out of the 15 million people the robots have encountered so far, 80% of people just ignored it, and the majority of the interactions were “extremely positive.”
People abusing robots is not new. A 2015 study which a placed a robot in a Japanese shopping mall found that when few people were around, children displayed “anti-social behavior” towards the robot by “blocking its way, calling it names or even acting violently toward it.”
Amid all the controversy about Google weaponising AI and fears over Boston Dynamics’ door-opening robot dogs, perhaps we should actually be worried about how humans treat tech, rather than the other way around? Besides, after the AI revolution, our little mechanical friends might remember who was doing the kicking.