There are a few common threads among most delivery robot startups like Starship, Kiwibot and Postmates: They are all using cooler-sized rover ‘bots. Each of their robots has just one cargo compartment. And they are all focused on outdoor delivery. This is where Ottonomy aims to separate itself from the rest of the pack.
Yes, Ottonomy makes rover robots like those other players. Ottonomy’s four-wheeled robot is twice the size of Starship’s robot, has autonomous driving capabilities, and can carry 40 to 45 kg (88 to 100 lbs.). But Ottonomy’s approach to delivery is a little different.
First, Ottonomy’s robot has two compartments, allowing it to make two separate deliveries during a single trip. This means the robot can generate more revenue per trip because it doesn’t have to return to a restaurant or market after every single drop-off.
More important, however, is where Ottonomy will make those deliveries. In addition to making last-mile deliveries, Ottonomy robots will make deliveries indoors. Think large transit hubs like airports or shopping malls. So, for example, a consumer waiting at an airport could order a meal from a participating airport restaurant and have it brought directly to them, wherever they are inside.
Ottonomy Co-Founder and CEO, Rutikar Vijay told me by phone this week that his robots can accomplish this indoor delivery because they do not rely as heavily on GPS to get around. The robots just need to map out the space once, and can then start making deliveries (Ottonomy robots cannot, however ride escalators or elevators).
In addition to opening up a new delivery market, making indoor deliveries could also be an easier path to market for Ottonomy. Unlike Kiwibot, which uses humans to plot delivery routes on public sidewalks, Ottonomy, as its name indicates, is all-in on autonomous driving (though there is still someone monitoring the robot). States and cities are all developing their own rules around autonomous delivery robots with varying levels of restrictions (which streets, operation house, whether a human needs to accompany the robot, etc.). Ottonomy isn’t avoiding outdoor deliveries in the U.S., but by going indoors and off city sidewalks, it can sidestep dealing with the patchwork of regulation and start generating revenue right away.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has kept most people from going to airports or congregating in large indoor areas, at some point we will again, and chances are good that robots will join us. In addition to Ottonomy, Cheetah Mobile in China has its FANBOT, which is basically a mobile vending machine that roams around hotel lobbies and cinemas.
That pandemic has also spurred more interest in robot delivery because of their contactless nature. Not only do they reduce a vector of human-to-human transmission, robots provide an additional method of delivery, which is more important than ever to restaurants.
Ottonomy has already been making deliveries in India and did a pilot last fall in an undisclosed transit hub. Vijay didn’t disclose pricing, but said that the company is exploring both a straight up robotics-as-a-service business model as well as one that includes revenue sharing.