A Starship Robot in London

I wrote this morning that investors are beginning to look to robotics as an alternative to food delivery when it comes to food tech investment. As it turns out, some might want to invest in both at the same time.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Daimler Benz just invested $17 million in sidewalk robot delivery company Starship Technologies. Starship, which makes sidewalk robots to deliver food and groceries, was founded by two Skype cofounders in 2014.

I had a chance to talk with cofounder Ahti Heinla last fall, who told me that while everyone working on the future of home delivery is largely focused on self-driving cars and drones, they thought their approach would be easier to realize in the near term.

“Autonomous cars need to respond correctly to every possible situation that can arise on a road”, said Heinla. “With a sidewalk robot, when a robot encounters a situation that is too complicated for the automatic system to handle, the robot can simply stop on the sidewalk and call up the (human) operator to help. This is the beauty of using a robot moving at pedestrian speeds on a sidewalk.”

The $17 million investment from Daimler isn’t the carmaker’s first autonomous vehicle investment. Last year they invested in Matternet to jointly develop a van that would drive airborne drones close to the point of delivery and then let the drones deliver parcels to their final destination.

Unlike their drone effort, sidewalk robots present less regulatory hurdles. “We have a lot more operational freedom because, in a number of countries and U.S. states, we are completely legal and do not need any laws or regulations to be changed,” Heinla told the Wall Street Journal.