QSR chain Chipotle announced today that it has invested in autonomous delivery vehicle startup, Nuro. The amount invested was not disclosed and according to the press announcement, Chipotle’s investment is part of Nuro’s Series C round, which was announced last November.
Chipotle has been playing the digital long game, adding features like advanced “Chipotlanes” for drive-thru customer. That shift was one reason it was able to weather the pandemic relatively well. According to today’s press release, Chipotle’s digital business grew over 174% year over year in 2020. On top of that, Chipotles also got into the ghost kitchen game last November as dining rooms remained closed thanks to COVID.
Tying these threads together, it’s not hard to see how digital ordering, high-tech drive-thrus, ghost kitchens and self-driving vehicles could all work together. An autonomous Chipotle pod pulls into a Chipotlane, a human (or conveyor belt!) puts the order in the pod, which then drives off to make the delivery. Repeat all day long.
The good thing about Nuro’s low-speed vehicles is that they travel faster and can go farther than a sidewalk robot like Starship or Kiwibot. Plus, Nuro’s technology has gotten approvals from both the federal government and the State of California. Nuro’s self-driving pods have actually been operating without human intervention for some time now.
But! Nuro’s pods are half the size of a regular car and have two compartments that can haul a week’s worth of groceries. The Nuro pod seems… excessive for carrying a burrito across town. I wonder if Chipotle will outfit its own Nuro pods with an automat-like cubby system to hold multiple orders. Or, perhaps they will initially reserve the use of Nuros for corporate catering, which bundles together a bunch of orders.
Regardless, a big QSR brand like Chipotle investing in autonomous vehicles is not just a feather in the cap (and money in the bank) for Nuro. It could help boost the overall autonomous delivery sector.
If you are curious about the future of autonomous vehicle food delivery, be sure to attend our ArticulATE food robotics virtual conference on May 18!