Self-driving robot start-up Mobinn's delivery robot climbs stairs at an apartment complex in Gwanggyo, Gyeonggi. [CU]
Delivery robots may be roaming the streets of Korea as early as this year as the government changes laws to lift regulations. A recent bill that classifies mobile robots as pedestrians boosted the delivery robot industry when it passed the National Assembly last month, industry sources say.
Changes are being implemented to the Road Traffic Act and Intelligent Robots Development and Distribution Promotion Act to pave the way for delivery robots to roam freely.
The National Assembly on March 30 passed a traffic bill to categorize delivery robots as pedestrians, which will be in effect from October. The traffic law — which differentiates sidewalks from roads — has been classifying self-driving robots as automobiles, prohibiting them from traveling on sidewalks.
The intelligent robot bill that specifies the scope of these robots passed the National Assembly’s internal committee on March 23 and now awaits approval from the judiciary committee and the parliamentary plenary session.
Robot deliveries may surge this year if the robot bill is passed within the first half and undergoes a 6-month-long stay period.
Convenience stores, chain restaurants and resort companies are testing the commercialization of robot deliveries.
CU is running a test to commercialize the robot delivery service with Mobinn, a delivery robot start-up, at an apartment complex in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, from April 3 to 23.
The test deliveries are for orders over 8,000 won ($6) and charge 900 won for the delivery fee. It took Mobinn delivery robots 11 minutes on average to complete their deliveries, which was nearly 20 minutes shorter than deliveries by humans.
“Changes in the law heighten expectations [from investors],” Mobinn CEO Choi Jin told the JoongAng Ilbo, pointing out that investors have been wary of the legal restrictions that hindered self-driving robot deliveries.
Mobinn plans to cooperate with a pizza chain in Daegu and a resort company in Taean, South Chungcheong, in the latter half of this year.
The company is trying to keep the delivery fee below 1,000 won to relieve consumer resistance, Choi added.
Robot software start-up Neubility's self-driving delivery robot departs a 7-Eleven convenience store in Bangbae-dong, southern Seoul, on September 2022. [7-ELEVEN]
7-Eleven is preparing for a test delivery service with another self-driving robot start-up Neubility later in the year. The two companies ran demonstration deliveries within an 800-meter radius in Bangbae-dong in southern Seoul between September and December last year.
Neubility plans to expand its robot delivery service with Samsung Welstory at golf courses and with KT at KT’s camping grounds.
Neubility “looks forward to an optimistic future as regulations barring the robotics industry are rapidly dissolving,” said the company’s public relations manager Hong Gyeong-pyo.
Woowa Brothers, operator of the food delivery app Baedal Minjok, currently operates delivery robots at an apartment complex in Gwanggyo, Gyeonggi.
Robotis, the first self-driving robot company to operate under the so-called regulatory sandbox that exempts new technologies from legal regulations, is also expanding its delivery business.
“We hope to see delivery robots driving along the streets as early as the fourth quarter of this year,” Robotis Chairman Kim Byung-soo told government officials who visited the company headquarters on April 6.
The robot bill awaiting parliamentary approval requires delivery robots to receive safety certification and be insured to settle safety concerns and liability issues. Experts say that the current logistics law that defines logistics vehicles as trucks and two-wheeled vehicles needs revision as well, for self-driving robots to enter the transportation business on a full-scale.
“We will convince the public to perceive self-driving robots as safe and convenient by familiarizing them at various locations once the legal grounds are laid,” said a spokesperson for Neubility.
Retailers' hopes are high for delivery robots.
“We will provide advanced and distinguished retail services by continuing to follow the robot delivery roadmap and participating in the robot delivery business,” said Hong Won-jin, manager of the convenience store lab at BGF retail, operator of CU.
The global delivery robot market size is projected to reach $1.8 billion by 2028, according to market researcher MarketsandMarkets. This equals a 33.7 percent growth per year from this year’s projected market size of $400 million.
BY BAEK IL-HYUN, SOHN DONG-JOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]