Tesco robot delivery

Other companies such as Just Eat are also experimenting with Starship Technologies’ delivery robot

Congratulations to Tesco for allowing our minds to escape from the toil of the election battle and fears over terrorism, for a few precious moments at least.

Its launch of trials for a new grocery delivery service using robots, as revealed by The Grocer yesterday, is much more the sort of lighthearted relief we want as summer gets under way.

However, despite Tesco trying its best to play down the trials after we discovered what it was up to, it would be foolish to write this development off purely as a silly season bit of nonsense.

It’s not as if Tesco is the first to the punch with the use of robots. Other major operators, including Just Eat and Domino’s Pizza, have previously announced trials with the appropriately named Starship Technologies, the firm that is rolling out the futuristic robots in a move it claims will revolutionise food delivery. [Note to UKIP: the robots are manufactured in Estonia.]

And, of course, big rival Amazon announced its plans to conquer the delivery world using drones long ago.

Tesco was so impressed with its trial, which delivered groceries to a central London address in less than 60 minutes, it posted a video of the robot in action, set to the Thunderbirds theme tune.

The retailer has told early users of its Tesco Now service, which is only in its infancy itself, that it is planning a rollout of the robots later in the year, almost certainly limited to London.

So with those three companies alone, the sight of these cute little six-wheeled robots buzzing around the poshest parts of the capital looks set to become commonplace in the next few months.

Whether they become a key part of Tesco’s online delivery services and whether this could possibly work on a wider footing in other parts of London, or indeed other towns and cities, looks much further over the horizon. Although, if mankind can send a satellite crashing into the sun, then a family in Milton Keynes getting their Tesco meal deal delivered by robot is surely a piece of cake.

A technological revolution in the capital

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who has clearly also been turning his mind away from matters politic to assess the significance of a technological revolution in the capital, is convinced innovations such as drones, artificial intelligence and robots are the future.

Speaking ahead of the London Tech Week event, which starts in a few days, he said such inventions would “change the way that all Londoners live and experience the city”.

On social media, reaction to The Grocer’s story was mixed.

Natalie Berg, Planet Retail analyst, described the development as “exciting and futuristic” but questioned whether there was a demand, as well as the limited payload of the robots and whether shoppers would accept that after all the hi-tech gadgetry, they would actually have to unpack themselves, which does somewhat defeat the point of the exercise.

Others saw a more lucrative opportunity. Responding to the Daily Mail’s pick-up of our story, one reader said the move sounded “more like free shopping on wheels. First one gets the lot.”

Another commentator suggested: “Flip it on to its back and it’ll die like a tortoise - only it’s full of vegan ice cream and cakes. Yum.”

As for Tesco delivery drivers, it’s possible they will have more of a serious reason to view the robots with suspicion, considering the potential long-term implications for jobs. Don’t be surprised if there are a few robot hit-and-run victims in the months to come, and it will be a fair bet the culprits will be driving white vans with Freshly Clicked emblazoned on the side.