Memphis native on frontlines of high-tech fight against coronavirus

Memphis native fighting COVID-19 with robot technology

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Memphis native is on the frontlines of the Coronavirus response in China. Taiwo Stanback is the Senior Operations Manager for Robby Technologies.

The self-driving delivery robot company shipped some of their units to coronavirus hot spots where residents were under mandatory quarantine.

"Years ago, we thought this was like the Jetsons era but no, we're here," she explained.

Stanback spoke with WMC Action News 5 from Silicon Valley via Skype. The Yale and Ridgeway High School graduate says the demand for robots to deliver food and medicine in China rose after some cities were required to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We had increased interest to send some robots over there to test to reduce the amount of human-to-human contact,” Stanback explained.

She describes it as social distancing at its best.

“We’re getting food to people who can’t get out,” she continued. “Anything that you can place an order for online, our robots can deliver: medicine, pharmaceuticals, food.”

Robby robots use a proprietary navigation system to find the customer and the customer's address is looped through a partner like Amazon, Instacart, Door Dash or any service that sells goods online.

"The robot’s front kind of looks like a face. There are cameras and sensors there,” Stanback pointed out from the company’s Palo Alto facility.

The robots are programmed to avoid obstacles as they make its way to your door.

“You place the order just as usual, but instead of a human coming to your door to deliver your meal or medicine, the robot comes to the sidewalk,” she went on to say.

Customers get a text with a link to open the lid and retrieve their deliveries.

“It’s really good that the technology is already set up and we’re doing this testing," Stanback added.

Each robot can carry a 30” x 19” load, but the payload can be customized, depending upon the partner’s product.

Stanback points out China is already highly automated, so it is the best test case scenario.

With higher online demand across the globe, she says the robots can allow for more deliveries to go out and for orders to be delivered during non-traditional hours and to be utilized during emergencies.

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Stanback says humans are still necessary for robot maintenance, cleaning and engineering, so she expects robotics to create jobs as more Americans focus on STEM studies.

“I went to Bethel Grove Elementary School. I was not in this industry before,” she smiled. “I re-trained myself. So, self-drive automation, artificial intelligence, everything that goes into making a robot is the future of the workforce.”

Stanback says the robots have the ability to complement delivery companies like FedEx, where the robot can deliver items the last two miles to keep workers safe.

The robots are also serving snacks on college campuses across California.

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