The big news this week was that Uber is acquiring rival food delivery service Postmates for $2.65 billion in an all-stock deal.
There is a lot to be determined about the macro aspects of this deal: What it means for Uber’s future? What will this means for restaurants? What does this do for the overall third-party delivery space? Etc.
But I want to focus on one small aspect of this acquisition that could have big implications. Uber is now in the robot business.
Postmates’ Serve is an automous delivery robot the company introduced at the end of 2018. It’s been scurrying about the sidewalks of Los Angeles making deliveries in the Hollywood and West Hollywood neighborhoods since at least the tail end of 2019.
Uber has eschewed robots in its food delivery efforts, focusing instead on a drone program, which was scheduled to start testing this summer in San Diego.
Robots haven’t been a huge part of any third-party delivery service to this point and I don’t know what plans, if any, Uber has for the Serve bot. But I hope it continues and expands the initiative, as now is the perfect time for robot food delivery:
- The pandemic has forced people to stay home and order food in.
- Restaurants that had opened are shutting back down because COVID-19 levels have not been abated, so they must continue to rely on delivery.
- Robots remove a vector of human-to-human viral transmission.
- Local governments could be more amenable to self-driving robots on city sidewalks, given all of the above.
We’re already seeing (slight) expansions in the use of delivery robots. Starship pivoted from college campus deliveries to general deliveries in cities. And Refraction’s just added grocery delivery to its service up in Ann Arbor, MI.
The ink isn’t even dry on the Uber+Postmates deal yet, so who knows what the future will bring. As the old business wisdom goes, Uber won’t even fully know what it’s bought for another six months. I just hope after that, we’ll be seeing more delivery robots from them on the streets.
Another record month for online grocery
Look. I don’t want to say there’s anything “good” about this pandemic. There isn’t. So when I point out that there are opportunities (like delivery robots), that is meant in a purely objective way.
The data comes from a Brick Meets Click/Mercatus survey released yesterday, which also found that 45.6 million customers got their groceries via delivery or curbside pickup last month.
The coronavirus has spurred this massive shift in grocery buying, and Brick Meets Click found that 44 percent of survey households had “high levels of concern” over contracting COVID.
Now that people have had three months with online food shopping, and grocery stores seem to have worked out the kinks from the onslaught of interest, perhaps July will wind up being another record month for grocery e-commerce. The pandemic certainly is not going away anytime soon here in the U.S.
Live Fireside Chat: The State of Restaurant Robotics
As noted above, delivery robots could be one way for restaurants to stay in business during this pandemic. But what about the back of house? Could robots that cook and clean help keep restaurants afloat?
We’re hosting a live virtual fireside chat on Thursday, July 9 at 10 a.m. (PT) to find out. I’ll be hosting a discussion with Linda Poulliot, Founder and CEO of Dishcraft Robotics, and Clayton Wood, CEO of Picnic, to talk about the state and future of restaurant robotics.
It promises to be a fun time and it’s free! So sign up and reserve your spot today.
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