Shopping robots come into their own in locked-down English town

A fleet of robots on wheels that deliver shopping in the English town of Milton Keynes have seen their popularity surge as residents are stuck indoors due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The robots, which come up roughly to an adult's knee height and look like smooth white plastic boxes mounted on six black wheels, are a familiar sight in the town, where they have been delivering groceries for over two years.

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Lockdown Britain enjoys warm weekend
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Lockdown Britain enjoys warm weekend
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Runners on the Mall in central London, at the finish of the London Marathon course, which was postponed to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
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LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: The London Eye is seen from the Embankment as runners go past on April 26, 2020 in London, England. The 40th London Marathon was due to take place today, with thousands of runners due to take part. It has postponed until October 04 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Runners run down The Mall , where the finish of the London Marathon was due to take place, on April 26, 2020 in London, England. The 40th London Marathon was due to take place today, with thousands of runners due to take part. It has postponed until October 04 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Joggers run across Tower Bridge on April 26, 2020 in London, England. The 40th London Marathon was due to take place today, with thousands of runners due to take part, but was postponed until October 04 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Joggers run through Canary Wharf on April 26, 2020 in London, England. The 40th London Marathon was due to take place today, with thousands of runners due to take part. It has postponed until October 04 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
People cycle along the seafront at Goring-by-Sea on the south coast of England, on April 26, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's health ministry on Saturday said 813 more people had died after testing positive for COVID-19 in hospital, taking the death toll to 20,319. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
A couple view the empty beach in Broadstairs, Kent, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Following the closure of several Pizza Hut restaurants due to Covid-19, the Croydon Solidarity Network protest outside in Lewisham over the plight of around forty Pizza Hut workers in South London who had not been paid for five weeks without being furloughed on April 25, 2020 in London, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: People are encouraged to keep 2 metres apart on April 25, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: Police officers try to persuade a sunbather to leave the beach on April 25, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: A man sunbathes in the boot of his car as people continue to stay at home in central Manchester on April 25, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: Police officers try to persuade a sunbather to leave the beach on April 25, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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A woman in sunglasses and rollerblades keeps socially distanced and enjoys the sunshine in Peel Park, Salford, Greater Manchester on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Police officers tell members of the public that they are not allowed to sit and enjoy the sunshine on the grass, but are allowed to walk to take exercise, in London Fields park in east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Police officers patrol the beach in Brighton as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: A police officer encourages people to leave the beach on April 25, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Police officers tell members of the public that they are not allowed to sit and enjoy the sunshine on the grass, but are allowed to walk to take exercise, in London Fields park in east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: Police officers encourage people to leave the beach on April 25, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
People practicing social distancing at Tynemouth beach as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
Three men with identical bleach blonde hair sunbathe in the sunshine in Peel Park, Salford, Greater Manchester on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A man drinks lager from a can under his protective face mask as he enjoys the sunshine in Peel Park, Salford, Greater Manchester on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A socially distanced topless man falls asleep in the hot sun in Sackville Gardens in Manchester city centre on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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A police car patrols the promenade in Brighton as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
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A woman goes for a walk in a full face visor in Manchester city centre on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A man wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) of a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, runs on the grass in Victoria Park, east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
People walk in the sunshine in Victoria Park, east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: A Beach warden speaks to a family group after they gather on the beach with buckets and spades on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: A man wears a face mask as he walks across Deansgate in central Manchester on April 25, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: People enjoy the warm weather in Castlefield in central Manchester on April 25, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: A man carries a Jack Russell dog on his shoulder as he walks along Deansgate in central Manchester on April 25, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
People walk along the cliff top, at Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, southern England, on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: General views of Bournemouth Beach signage encouraging people to stay home as members of the public walk on the sand on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Tape covers outdoor gym equipment to prevent people using it, in Abbey Park in Leicester, central England, on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Social distancing is practised on a park bench as a man (R) reads a book as a couple exchange a kiss, in London Fields park in east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
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But since the government imposed strict social distancing measures on March 23, the devices have been busier than ever, delivering for free to National Health Service (NHS) staff and facing increased demand from the general public.

"Right now we are offering free delivery to all NHS workers within the community. We want to make life a little bit easier for these people in these very, very stressful times," said Henry Harris-Burland, of Starship, the company that makes the robots.

"Lots of them are doing ... 80-hour weeks and they don't have time to go to the local grocery store, so they use our robots for their shopping," he said. "We're honoured that we can be part of that solution."

The robots have what looks like an antenna, topped with a small red flag to make it easier to spot them as they do their rounds. They are big enough to hold several bags of shopping as well as a pack of bottles.

Starship has doubled its fleet of delivery robots in Milton Keynes to 70 in the past three weeks. Harris-Burland said they had completed 100,000 autonomous deliveries in the town.

"Lots of the residents have been reaching out to us online asking us to deliver into their neighbourhood," he said.

"We're doing everything we can as quickly as possible to expand to offer this service to more people, especially at this really important time."

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