As Spoon readers know, food robots are everywhere nowadays. So to keep you current on all the goings-on in this fast-moving market, we’re launching a weekly roundup of the top stories at the intersection of food and automation. Let’s get to it.
Metal and medals
Photo: NBC Sports
This video from Reuters shows the futuristic robotics used at the Winter Olympics this year. In an effort to minimize human contact and reduce the spread of the coronavirus, China has installed robot waiters and bartenders to prepare and deliver food in the main media center. Food can be ordered by scanning a code with your phone, but perhaps the most futuristic is the tracks running along the ceiling, where orders are lifted straight from the automated kitchen and lowered to tables.
It’s been interesting to see how the rest of the world has reacted to the robots in China. Eastern cultures tend to be more accepting of robot technology while some western media outlets have covered it with a more dystopian perspective. But having robots at the Olympics isn’t a new concept. The mascots for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were robots and the Games utilized robots in several ways to make events more efficient and safe. So as the Winter Olympics kick off, I’ll be watching the athletes compete but thinking about the robots behind the scenes that make their lives easier.
Apples and Oranges
Wavemaker Labs acquired Abundant Robotics’ IP last year, adding to its portfolio of seed to fork robotics that also includes the likes of Miso Robotics, Future Acres, and Nommi. The company is now incorporated as Abundant Robots, Inc and is part of the Wavemaker Labs portfolio.
Now, they are seeking equity crowdfunding to raise money to leverage existing technology to build a new apple-picking robot. The goal is to use the computer vision and machine learning technology that was acquired to build a cheaper and more efficient apple-picking robot.
Many of Wavemaker’s other portfolio companies have also used equity crowdfunding to raise capital (Piestro just launched its third campaign). Equity crowdfunding can serve as a way to give consumers a vested interest in the success of the venture and can be used as a way to market the company as well. Outside of Future Acres, most of Wavemaker’s companies have been more consumer-focused than Abundant Robots. Since Abundant Robots is a highly technical venture and consumers won’t be interacting with it directly, it’ll be interesting to see how Wavemaker applies the same funding strategy they use for consumer-facing products.
Share the roads
Founded by two ex-Google Car/Waymo employees, Nuro announced that they have finalized the development of their third-generation driverless delivery vehicles, called “Nuro.” Nuro is 20% smaller in width than the average passenger car and designed to operate on the roads, unlike other delivery robots like Starship and Serve Robotics that operate on the sidewalks (more on those later).
However, unlike autonomous vehicles like Waymo, Nuro doesn’t house any passengers. Instead, it contains two modular cargo compartments that hold food and can be changed between heating and cooling what’s inside. Because Nuro doesn’t hold any passengers, it’s cheaper to build and the company recently announced that they are building factories to begin production. Additionally, Nuro doesn’t have to sacrifice passenger comfort for safety and even features an external airbag to protect pedestrians and cyclists.
While the hybrid between autonomous vehicle and delivery robot is unique, perhaps the most fascinating use case for Nuro is as a roving grocery store. A photo in the announcement video shows Nuro stocked with fresh produce. It’ll be interesting to see if this new technology is leveraged by grocery stores as they implement their dark grocery store strategies.
Starship to the moon
Starship Technologies, the San Francisco based autonomous delivery robot company, just received €50 million from the European Investment Bank, the funding arm of the European Union. Although the company launched in 2017, demand skyrocketed (no pun intended) during the pandemic when customers were staying at home or minimizing their contact with other people. Since then, it’s made more than 2.4 million commercial deliveries and traveled over 3 million miles globally.
In case you missed it: Food robotics coverage from the Spoon
- Bolk, a French robotics startup that makes bowls, announced on Friday that it has raised €4 million in funding.
- Yo-kai’s self-driving ramen vending robot will be making an appearance at the Super Bowl pre-party in LA next week.
- Pizza Hut and Hyper Robotics teamed up to launch a fully automated containerized pizzeria in the parking lot of a mall in Bnei Dror, a city in central Israel.
- Serve Robotics recently announced that the company’s sidewalk delivery robot has reached Level 4 autonomy.