Source: Starship/Co-op

The parent’s complaint to Starship was met with the offer of a £5 discount, which she refused

Robot grocery delivery company Starship Technologies has said it is investigating an incident in which one of its bots reportedly “hit and pushed” a toddler in Milton Keynes.

It follows a post by a parent on neighbourhood social networking app Nextdoor describing how her two-year-old son was knocked by one of the company’s robots in the Brunel shopping centre in Bletchley.

“The robot never stopped and continued his journey,” the parent posted, as first reported by MKCitizen.

“My son didn’t get any injury but he was scared and stressed after this,” she added.

According to the parent, her complaint to Starship was met with the offer of a £5 discount, which she refused.

Starship told The Grocer that “we take an incident like this seriously and we’re investigating”.

The firm’s six-wheeled autonomous robots launched in the UK in 2018, delivering groceries in as little as 15 minutes within a two-mile radius of a Milton Keynes Co-op branch. The service has since expanded to more areas of Milton Keynes, and in 2020 rolled out in Northampton again in partnership with Co-op.

There are around 500 Starship autonomous vehicles currently in operation in the UK, delivering for Co-op as well as from several Tesco and Budgens stores.

Co-op said it was “aware of the reports, and await Starship’s findings”.

The robots use a combination of sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning to travel on pavements and “navigate around any obstacles” the company says, while computer vision-based navigation helps them map their environment “to the nearest inch”.

As of March, globally the company has completed three million commercial autonomous deliveries.

The company raised $42m last month, coming just months after raising $57m from the European Investment Bank, the funding arm of the European Union.

In September last year, former Morrisons CEO Dalton Philips joined Starship’s board.

The response to the parent post on Nextdoor ranged from sympathy to defence of the robot. “I think the sensors get confused. One almost went into my husband a few weeks ago,” one response read. Another claimed her friend’s dog “got a nudge but it was no big deal”.

In December, Toronto City Council voted to ban ‘sidewalk robots’ until it had further studied their impact on the community. Starship rival Tiny Mile has operated in Toronto since September 2020, but has now withdrawn its robots.