As part of its acquisition of Postmates last year, Uber got into the delivery robot business. Now, according to a report in TechCrunch, Uber is planning to get out of the robo-biz by spinning off Postmates X (the robotics division of the company) into a separate company.
Postmates X, the robotics division of the on-demand delivery startup that Uber acquired last year for $2.65 billion, is seeking investors in its bid to become a separate company, according to several people familiar with the plans.
The new spinout is being called Serve Robotics, named after the companies’ autonomous, cooler-sized Serve robot, which was making deliveries in Los Angeles throughout much of 2020. More recently, Postmates Serve was enlisted by the Pink Dot market to make deliveries in West Hollywood.
TechCrunch reports that Serve Robotics would retain the IP and assets, and Uber would keep a 25 percent stake in the company.
Given how the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing restaurants and grocers to adopt more contactless delivery methods, it may seem like an odd time for Uber to get out of the delivery robot business.
As we’ve been chronicling, autonomous delivery robots are popping up all over the globe. Starship has been doing deliveries on college campuses for more than a year, and expanded to grocery delivery in Modesto, CA. Kiwibot partnered with the City of San Jose for robot restaurant deliveries there. Then there’s Yandex in Russia, Delivers AI in Turkey, and Woowa Brothers in Seoul, South Korea.
But as Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi recently explained on Kara Swisher’s Sway podcast, his company is in the networking business. Khosrowshahi doesn’t think Uber needs to create the technology uses, it just needs access to the best technology that allows it to facilitate deliveries and ridesharing. That’s one reason Uber offloaded its autonomous driving unit at the end of last year.
While the use of robotics is definitely on the rise around the world, there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome before they become mainstream. Regulations and production scale are two biggies. Right now there are a patchwork of rules around autonomous delivery that vary from city to city and state to state. Even as those get ironed out, scaling robots to a number where we see them across the country is still a huge undertaking.
Uber pushing those issues off on to a separate company means Uber can focus more on its own delivery and ridesharing businesses. Uber can then just license the robot technology to facilitate its food delivery.