Stairs are no obstacle for this delivery bot’s squishy wheels

One of the easiest shots to take at the delivery bots some of us see trundling around techy cities is that they can’t climb stairs, curbs, or any other minor obstacle that even a slug could handle. Mobinn, a new spinoff from Hyundai, has seemingly solved this using a set of flexible wheels that can take it up stairs with ease. They showed off their delivery bot at CES 2024 in Las Vegas.

Stairs and curbs are the bane of many a delivery bot, and generally the solution has been to avoid them. Use bike lanes, curb cuts, and ramps to just pretend that sudden changes in elevation don’t happen in the world. But that’s a problem when you’re delivering to the huge proportion of people who live up at least one step from the street.

Either you can tell them to come down and grab their burrito from the sidewalk, or . . . invent a whole new stair-climbing robot. As you can see in the images above and videos below, that’s what these engineers decided to do.

CEO Choi Jin explained that the company, short for “mobile innovation,” developed the technology over a few years at Hyundai but only spun out last year. The robots are partly autonomous, though he was driving the one in the video up and down the stairs, and like many such bots, they are equipped with a decent set of sensors to accomplish that.

I suggested that climbing steps must be, as it is for humans, pretty fatiguing for the robot, expecting the other shoe to drop in the form of a minuscule stair number it can actually get up. But no, Jin said the robot will run for 8 hours doing steps the whole time. Who out there can say the same?

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The wheels flex but have an articulating frame on the interior side that keeps them from getting too out of shape.

He also pointed out that they accomplish the task with only four motors, one for each wheel, and no complicated differential setups. It does, of course, have a tilting bed so that the payload can stay level, though it will also get jostled around somewhat. A pair of doors at the front open up to provide access to the food or package within.

Jin said that the robots are being tested in the wild on Korean streets, but the company and product are still fairly young. Mobinn’s pitch deck also shows that they are working on wheelchair and other mobility options, but so far it seems the delivery bot is the first out the door.

Read more about CES 2024 on TechCrunch