With Postmates, Uber launches into the game of delivery robots


The big news this week is that Uber is acquiring rival food delivery service Postmates for $ 2.65 billion under an all-stock deal.

Much remains to be determined on the macro aspects of this deal: what does this mean for Uber’s future? What does this mean for restaurants? What does this do for the global third-party delivery space? Etc.

But I want to focus on a small aspect of this acquisition that could have big implications. Uber is now in the robot business.

Postmates’ Serve is an automatic delivery robot the company introduced in late 2018. It has been rushing the sidewalks of Los Angeles to make deliveries to neighborhoods in Hollywood and West Hollywood since at least late 2019.

Uber has avoided robots in its food delivery efforts, instead focusing on a drone program, which was due to begin testing this summer in San Diego.

Bots haven’t been a big part of third-party delivery services at this point and I’m not sure what, if anything, Uber’s plans are for the Serve bot. But hopefully this will continue and expand the initiative, as now is the perfect time for robotic food delivery:

  • The pandemic has forced people to stay at home and order food.
  • Restaurants that had opened are closing because COVID-19 levels have not declined, so they must continue to rely on delivery.
  • Robots suppress a vector of human-to-human viral transmission.
  • Local governments might be more willing to install autonomous robots on city sidewalks, given all of the above.

We are already seeing (slight) expansions in the use of delivery robots. Starship has moved from deliveries on college campuses to general deliveries in cities. And Refraction just added grocery delivery to its service in Ann Arbor, MI.

The ink isn’t even dry on the Uber + Postmates deal yet, so who knows what the future holds. According to old business wisdom, Uber won’t even fully know what it bought for six months. I just hope after that we will see more delivery bots from them on the streets.

Another record month for online grocery shopping

See. I don’t mean to say that there is anything “good” about this pandemic. There are not any. So when I point out that there are opportunities (like delivery bots), it’s in a purely objective way.

The same goes for online grocery shopping, which, thanks to the pandemic, had another record month in June, reaching $ 7.2 billion in sales (up from $ 6.6 billion in May).

The data comes from a Brick Meets Click / Mercatus survey released yesterday, which also found that 45.6 million customers shopped via curbside delivery or pickup last month.

The coronavirus spurred this massive shift in grocery shopping, and Brick Meets Click found that 44% of households surveyed had “high levels of concern” about contracting COVID.

Now that people have had three months with food shopping online, and grocery stores seem to have solved the issues with the onslaught of interest, July may be another record month for grocery e-commerce. The pandemic is definitely not going to go away anytime soon here in the United States

Fireside Live Chat: The State of Restaurant Robotics

As noted above, delivery robots could be a way for restaurants to stay in business during this pandemic. But what about the back of the house? Could robots that cook and clean help keep restaurants afloat?

We welcome a virtual live chat by the fireside Thursday, July 9 at 10 a.m. PT to find out. I’ll be hosting a chat with Linda Poulliot, Founder and CEO of Dishcraft Robotics, and Clayton Wood, CEO of Picnic, to talk about the state and future of foodservice robotics.

It promises to be a fun time and it’s free! So sign up and reserve your place today.

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