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Spoon readers may recall that a couple weeks back I speculated on DIY and the IKEA-ization of food tech gadgets. You can read the full thesis here, but the TL;DR version is that shipping parts for people to assemble smaller devices at home is cheaper for bootstrapped startups and theoretically not too hard for consumers and thus, DIY could be a viable business model for small companies just starting out.
If my experience with MyBar.io’s DIY cocktail robot is any indication, I may have missed the mark on that prediction. Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea of more gadgets being DIY is still solid, but the actual implementation is going to require a lot more work and time from anyone who wants to sell this way.
My problem with the MyBar wasn’t actually building the cocktail robot. But for a few hiccups, that part was pretty straightforward. All the laser cut parts fit together easily, the pumps worked and the result was a solid machine.
The problem was the software. The accompanying MyBar app almost made the whole enterprise pointless as poor design, weaker wireless connections and repeated crashes made me want to throw the whole thing into Puget Sound.
I didn’t. It eventually worked, and MyBar actually went on to be a hit at my recent party. But the whole experience was instructive because I was expecting a lot from what is essentially a literal one-man operation. Juan Pablo Risso runs MyBar and was super great at designing the hardware, taking my order, shipping it and being responsive to all my customer service complaints. But he’s just one dude.
Risso, and anyone else who wants to try the DIY path to profits can’t just focus on the hardware, they need to spend as much time on the software. A pretty machine that’s easy to assemble is only as good as the app or lines of code that run it.
FarmBot, which will launch DIY farm robotics kits later this year, looks like it might have a promising approach. It’s been running how-to videos on YouTube to walk people through using its software. It’s smart to get these videos out and onto a wildly popular platform for people to familiarize themselves with the app before it’s out in the public.
Do-It-Yourself issues are all solvable, they just require more time finessing the product or possibly more money or bringing on more partners before going to market. DIY is doable for startups; founders just need to realize that they don’t have to do it all themselves.
I think my co-worker is wrong about this
You’d be smart if you subscribed to my co-worker Catherine Lamb’s Future Food newsletter. She’s an expert on alternative proteins like plant-based meats, non-dairy milks and when she writes about something like flora-based ice cream, I seek it out immediately.
But she and I have wildly divergent views on Beyond Meat’s new ground product Beyond Beef. She’s a vegetarian, so she found the new pea-based product to be such an uncanny simulation of meat as to be off-putting.
As a more free-wheelin’ flexitarian, I find Beyond Beef to be delicious. It’s got a great umami flavor, but the texture is the star. It’s more rigid and less spongy that previous iterations of Beyond’s “meat.” I’ve used it in a few pasta sauces and the whole family has enjoyed it. Highly recommend.
I get and will still seek out Catherine’s opinion on many things, but when it comes to Beyond’s new offering, well, we’ve got beef.
A robot that’s just right?
There’s a lid for every pot, or so the saying goes. In the case of autonomous delivery robots, this might actually be true as there are a number of different form factors coming to market (to bring you food from the market).
Not to get all Goldilocks, but on the big end, you have Udelv and its big self-driving vans, then you have AutoX and its regular self-driving sedans, next down you have Nuro and Robomart that make pod-like, half-sized vehicles, and on the small end are cooler-sized rover bots from the likes of Kiwi and Starship.
Squeezing somewhere in between a pod-like low speed vehicle and a rover bot is the new REV-1 from Refraction AI, which launched at the end of last week. This three-wheeled delivery robot is different from other solutions on the market as it only has three wheels, has ditched LIDAR for its navigation, relying instead on cameras mostly, and it’s fast enough to travel in either the roadway or the bike lane.
Being able to use the bike lane opens up new delivery route options for the REV-1 and could make it just the right size for both urban and suburban food delivery.
The thing about any autonomous delivery vehicle, however, is the fact that they only get your groceries to the curb. If you want them brought inside, you have to do it yourself.