Paving the way for autonomous last-mile delivery

Drones, driverless cars, delivery robots. Technology is advancing at light speed, but without the legislative infrastructure to support it. For Starship Technologies, the developers of small self-driving delivery robots, this risked constraining its business.

The solution? Seek to change the law across Europe.

The challenge

Pinsent Masons has worked with Starship since its early days, accompanying it on a journey from research and development through to market. We have provided strategic advice, specialist expertise, a network of contacts, and challenged the confines of existing legislation.

Starship's innovation has the potential to revolutionise the supply chain, but only if a way can be found to legally operate the machines in public.

Starship's robots travel on six wheels at 4mph along public footpaths delivering goods to their allotted destination. However, operating delivery robots in this way is outlawed in most European countries.

We reviewed the laws of 20 countries and found that Austria was the only country where use of the robots would be permitted. For an innovative business with international intentions, this was a business-critical issue.

The only option was to seek a change in the law.

The solution

Pinsent Masons' is working with Starship to set precedents in an area of law with which technologists have grown increasingly frustrated. They have implemented a strategy which has:

  • Enabled market entry for the client into Germany and helped make significant headway in the UK
  • The potential to set new legislative standards, thus facilitating access to entirely new markets

To achieve this, Pinsent Masons drew upon its deep experience in legislation relating to connected and autonomous machines.

Solutions were found to data security and telecoms-related issues. We have:

  • Advised Starship on how best to manage the risks associated with operating an emerging technology within esoteric regulatory UK frameworks
  • Made it possible for Starship to become legally operational in Germany, negotiating exemptions from various traffic ordinances (such as StVO and StVZO)
  • Facilitated the establishment of Starship's operations in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, and Greenwich

Our experience in the field of autonomous machines added value beyond black letter law. We developed a strategy to establish connections between Starship and key industry bodies and authorities. This fostered a collaborative, consultative approach to numerous operational challenges.

For example, we connected Starship with the German technical standards agency TÜV. Every autonomous machine must be tested by TÜV to be able to operate. Starship was thereby able to obtain an accreditation certificate which would later prove its worth when taken to local authorities.

Pinsent Masons also helped Starship become embedded within the autonomous and connected vehicle community in the UK. We set up introductions with the Department for Transport, testing organisations and Greenwich Council. The latter is a major participant in supporting the UK's driverless vehicle trials.

As a result of those introductions Starship now has a positive relationship with several influential organisations. These include the Transport Research Laboratory and a UK driverless car project, GATEway.

The results

We have played a central role in assisting Starship in its achievements to date, particularly in Germany.

  • Starship is now operational in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Greenwich and in other localities around the UK
  • It has signed partnership agreements with major businesses including Hermes, Dominos Pizza and Just Eat. They are now testing the delivery robots in the UK and Germany
  • Starship has now established a UK base in Southwark

Founders Janus Friis, Ahti Heinla and COO Allan Martinson and their team are developing a fascinating business with significant prospects. Pinsent Masons’ creative thinking and shared passion for challenging the status quo is helping them to ‘make the market' for last mile delivery.

Out-Law / Your daily need to know

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