Pudu Technology, which makes autonomous server robots used in hospitality settings, announced yesterday a funding round of more than $15 million, according to VentureBeat.
The Shenzen, China-based Pudu makes a number of self-driving robots equipped with a rack of trays to shuttle food and drinks to and from customers inside a restaurant. Pudu introduced the BellaBot, which sports cat-like features and even makes a cute LED-face when you pet it, at this year’s CES.
Pudu’s funding comes at the right time, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced restaurants and bars to reduce the amount of human contact during table service. Server robots like Pudu’s provide a way to reduce at least one point of human-to-human interaction while dining out.
But Pudu will also need the funding because the robot server space is getting increasingly crowded. In the VentureBeat story, Pudu claims has 2,000 customers including Sheraton and JD.com, across 20 countries. Rival Keenon Robotics, server bot company based in China, says that it has 6,000 robots in action and that it can produce 30,000 robots a year.
Over in Korea, Woowa Bros. partnered with consumer electronics giant LG to develop and expand its robot waiter program. In Spain, Macco Robotics launched its Dbot modular server robot. And here in the U.S., Bear Robotics, raised $32 million earlier this year for its Penny robot server.
All of this is to say that there are a lot of companies looking to bring robot servers to your restaurant. So much so, that as I wrote back in February, they could become a commodity:
It feels like restaurant server robots are on their way to becoming less of a novelty and will soon be a commodity. They all do the same thing — carry food. They are meant to do the grunt work so humans don’t have to. So the feature set will be the same: Take food to table > carry food without spilling > avoid humans and other obstacles along the way.
Sure, there are enhancements that can be made, or perhaps there’s a unique way to move food from the robot to the table. But there really isn’t much else for the robot to do. Server robots will become a commodity, and whichever company creates the cheapest robot that does a decent job will win.
Given the debate and debacle around re-opening restaurants here in the U.S., and restaurant workers test positive for COVID, we could see a rise in demand for restaurant robots. And it looks like there are plenty of companies ready if that demand comes.