Academy of Robotics‘ latest project, Kar-go, looks so sleek, green, and futuristic that you might expect an equally stylish android to emerge from its interior. But Kar-go doesn’t transport robots; it is the robot. This custom-built, self-driving vehicle hit the streets of Greater London on November 10th, 2020, delivering prescriptions from a pharmacy to long-term care facilities in the suburb of Hounslow. 

The makers of Kar-go believe their fully-autonomous vehicle can perform as well as a human driver. Impressively, the car’s innovative vision system has more peripheral vision and can detect more granular details than the human eye. As the vehicle travels, a team at a physical command hub monitors its progress and scans for signs of trouble. If a problem occurs, operators at the command hub can take over by remote control.

Designed for residential streets, Kar-go has high-accuracy sensors and advanced AI software that reliably identifies other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and even pets. The delivery bot can navigate bad and unmarked roads and see around parked cars. The sensors can see up to 100 meters (about 109 yards) in all directions.

Kar-go’s hardware includes deep learning neural networks that interact with an AI chip and proprietary software. The software “trains” these networks to continually optimize the car’s performance. Tesla batteries power the UK-built chassis, all robotics, and the software. A series of compartments replace interior seats, and each chamber contains a separate delivery. When Kar-go arrives at a delivery address, it opens the appropriate partition. The other deliveries remain secure within the vehicle.  

Contact-free delivery systems have obvious benefits during the current pandemic. Kar-go may also cut prescription delivery costs. Patients using the service don’t need to drive their own cars, meaning Kar-go might have a positive environmental impact.

The current small-scale delivery operation is a precursor to larger-scale use of Kar-go, serving more areas in England. Ultimately, the fully-autonomous vehicle could provide a broad range of medical deliveries. These might include items that flying drones have successfully delivered in recent years, such as PPE, blood, and specialty medications.