San Francisco-based robotics startup Starship Technologies has raised over $80 million for delivery robots. The bots are fully autonomous — they carry up to 20 pounds of goods wherever you want them, without any remote control.
Why bots? Something called the “last mile” problem. That last mile refers to the distance from a local mail depot, restaurant, or grocery store, to the final destination. Right now, companies like GrubHub and Postmates send humans on cars or bikes to cover that distance, but it’s not the most efficient method, especially on campuses and in large office complexes or cities with heavy traffic.
That’s where delivery bots come in — they can take pedestrian routes, avoiding traffic and reducing energy emissions. And unlike humans with cars or bikes, the robots can make their deliveries in rain or shine, even a blizzard.
Starship was founded in 2014 by Skype developers Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla. They attest that the bots have successfully completed hundreds of trials in nine U.S. states and over 20 other countries. According to Starship, the bots have already delivered over 6,000 pizzas, 7,000 gallons of milk, 8,000 coffees, 9,000 sushi rolls, 15,000 bananas, and 3,700 diapers, crossing four million streets in the process.
Starship has launched the robot delivery service at several American universities, from Northern Arizona to Pittsburgh. The bots can be called through mobile apps for iOS and Android, which pins the delivery location and sends an alert when the “Starship rovers” arrive. The bots are locked with a password, which only the recipient has access to.
Wondering what comprises the rovers? Here are the stats: six wheels, nine cameras, 10 mph, 360-degree ultrasonic sensors. All this allows them to recharge, cross streets, climb curbs, and even operate in the dark, rain, and snow without supervision. For now, there’s a team of Starship teleoperators monitoring the bots just in case.
Starship’s current goal is to offer delivery services to over one million students in the next two years, expanding to over 100 universities. In April 2019, the Starship fleet had traveled 150,000 miles and completed 50,000 deliveries — as of last week, those numbers had almost doubled.
“An entire generation of university students are growing up in a world where they expect to receive a delivery from a robot after a few taps on their smartphone,” CEO Lex Bayer told Venture Beat. “The reception to our service both on campuses and in neighborhoods has been phenomenal… our customers appreciate how we make their lives easier and give them back the gift of time.”
It sounds great, but is this venture worth the $80 million Starship has raised with help from their many business partners? Turns out, yes. According to a 2024 Global Forecast Report, the market for autonomous delivery robots will be worth $34 billion in just five years.
Analysts predict by 2024, drones and rovers will be the go-to method for food, toiletries, and mail delivery worldwide. Starship has already partnered with Domino’s in Germany, Just Eat in London, and American delivery service DoorDash. The company offers commercial delivery service for businesses for just $10 a month and delivers for a flat fee of $1.99 for customers.
But it’s not just Starship. Dozens of other startups want a piece of the robot pie. FedEx and Postmates are working on their own self-driving rovers, and Amazon’s already expanding their bots’ coverage across California. Robot delivery startup Marble has $10 million in funding under their belt, and startup Nuro has secured a partnership with Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the US.
But Starship attests they’re far ahead of the competition. “We’ve evaluated the autonomous tech market segment around the world, and Starship is miles ahead of others in bringing advanced technology valued by real paying customers,” Starship investor (management director of TDK Ventures) Nicolas Sauvage claims. “Starship’s machine learning [and] computer vision are the most advanced we’ve seen.”