Residents of the Los Angeles neighborhood of West Hollywood shouldn’t be surprised if they see bright pink robots zipping along its sidewalks soon. Local market Pink Dot is now using Postmates’ Serve bot to make food deliveries in that part of town.
WehoVille reports that Pink Dot started using the robots last Thursday and that it is the only business using robots for deliveries in that neighborhood. Customers ordering food from Pink Dot through Postmates will have the option of choosing either a human or a robot make the delivery. When the robot arrives at a home or building, the customer will get a text message saying its food is there along with a special code to unlock the robot to retrieve their order.
Pink Dot is using three robots (named Pinky, Dotty and Solly), and the whole program is currently a three-month test. A human will still escort robots out on deliveries to help with any problems that arise, but those humans are hanging back to also see how people interact with the robots as they pass by (Pink Dot is giving out hats if you snap a selfie with the robot).
The robot deliveries from Pink Dot are also free of charge, as opposed to the $5 – $10 fee that comes with humans making the deliveries. This free robot service should help kickstart adoption, but we’ll have to see if a fee is implemented if robots delivery becomes more widespread.
It should be noted that this robot delivery program is happening right on the heels of Uber completing its acquisition of Postmates. While Uber has dabbled in drone delivery, it hasn’t really talked publicly about sidewalk robot delivery. But Uber Eats is currently the revenue generator for Uber, and anything that could help bring costs down for burrito deliveries is something Uber will be interested in.
One interesting aspect of this Pink Dot + Postmates delivery deal is that the robots are being co-branded by Pink Dot. So these robots won’t be serving any other restaurants or markets in the area. This also means that they’ll be advertising Pink Dot as they are out and about. Kiwi robots, which started rolling out in San Jose this past summer, have Kiwi branding and serve multiple restaurants in different neighborhoods there. Starship’s robots, which are making grocery deliveries in Modesto, CA, also carry their own Starship branding.
We bring it up because delivery robots are still an emerging business and there are questions around business models that make the most sense. Should robots be part of a third-party delivery fleet serving many restaurants, or leased directly to one restaurant/grocer for its own use?
Whether or not a robot is being leased by a particular establishment is also important because it speaks to the infrastructure needed to implement robot deliveries. If the robots are Pink Dot’s, then they will presumably live at that market, meaning they will wait and be charged there until they leave to make a delivery. If robots serve multiple restaurants, that raises questions about where the robots stay when they aren’t in use and where they are charged. For example, will they clutter city sidewalks?
We sent a note to Postmates with some follow up questions and will update this post when we hear back.
For those in WeHo who want to get a glimpse of the future, Pink Dot’s robots are available for delivery now, but only during daylight hours.