Credit: Marble

If you live in San Francisco and order from DoorDash, you might find a friendly Marble robot on your front door step the next time you get takeout. Today DoorDash announced it would be using autonomous ground-delivery robots made by Marble, a robotics startup, for a food delivery pilot program in select San Francisco neighborhoods.

Marble was founded in 2015 by robotics enthusiasts Matt DelaneyJason CalaiaroKevin Peterson while they attended Carnegie Mellon and describes themselves as a “scrappy robotics startup” working to build autonomous urban delivery robots. Scrappy as they might be, DoorDash is the second delivery pilot they’ve announced this year, partnering in April with Yelp’s Eat24.

The companies report that the pilot will allow them to “explore how to best optimize last-mile deliveries” and the first restaurant to take part in the robot delivery program fast food chain Jack in the Box. They made a quick video to show off Marble robots toting its first DoorDash deliveries in the North Beach neighborhoods of San Francisco.

The revenue model for robotics companies to partner with retail or food delivery services hasn’t been fully divulged; a spokesperson did say that Marble is being compensated for the work done in the pilot but declined to elaborate. However, delivery fees for a robot driver versus a human are the same for DoorDash customers. Marble said it didn’t have any hard data about how robot drivers create cost savings for delivery companies but that it hoped to share that information down the road.

Food delivery is an increasingly crowded space; aside from traditional restaurant delivery, “new delivery models” – companies like DoorDash, GrubHub and Eat24 – is expected to be a $20 billion market by 2025 according to a McKinsey report. In order to create efficiencies and differentiate, companies are looking to innovations like robot delivery drivers to stay ahead. And Marble isn’t the only game in sidewalk robotic delivery – former founders of Skype launched autonomous robotics startup Starship and received a $17 milllion investment earlier this year from carmarker Daimler Benz.

Starship had also announced a pilot in Redwood City, CA with DoorDash earlier this year. When asked if this program was designed to replace the competitive pilot, DoorDash responded that it was “…continuing the existing pilot with Starship in Redwood City, Washington DC, San Carlos and Sunnyvale. The Marble partnership adds to that relationship, allowing DoorDash to bring robot deliveries to San Francisco while also testing a new type of form factor and technology.”

Meanwhile, if you happen to see a Marble delivery robot on the sidewalk, you’ll probably see a human chaperone with it to answer questions and assist with interactions. At times when there isn’t a person nearby, Marble says they have remote operators ready to assist with issues and so far, they haven’t encountered any problems in the neighborhoods they’re serving.

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