It’s anticipated that the autonomous delivery robots market will be worth $34 billion by 2024, up from $11.9 billion in 2018. Some analysts predict that by then, in cities around the world, thousands of drones and rovers will regularly ferry food, drink, toiletries, and parcels on command to customers miles away.
It’s a future on which the investors behind robotics startup Starship Technologies are confidently banking. To that end, Starship this morning revealed that it’s secured $40 million in series A funding led by Morpheus Ventures, with participation from Shasta Ventures, Matrix Partners, MetaPlanet Holdings, TDK Ventures, Qu Ventures, and others. The fresh capital brings the San Francisco-based company’s total raised to over $80 million, following two seed rounds totaling $42.2 million, which CEO Lex Bayer says will be used to grow Starship’s geographic footprint.
Starship also announced today that its robot fleets have completed over 100,000 deliveries and traveled more than 350,000 miles collectively, up from 50,000 deliveries and 150,000 miles as of April 2019. The milestone comes as the startup barrels toward its goal of offering delivery to over one million students, which it intends to reach by expanding to over 100 universities in the next two years.
“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,” said Bayer, formerly the CEO of Airbnb Payments. “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.”
On campuses like the University of Pittsburgh, where Starship kicked off service this week ahead of a September 9 launch at Purdue University, mobile apps for Android and iOS handle ordering. Customers select what they’d like from a menu and drop a map pin where they want their delivery to be sent, and Starship’s rovers — which can carry up to 20 pounds of goods (about three shopping bags’ worth) in their password-locked compartments — get moving while continuously reporting their location. When they arrive at their destination, they issue an alert via the app.
Starship’s six-wheeled robots pack a wealth of electronics, including nine cameras and ultrasonic sensors that afford them a 360-degree view of their surroundings. They have a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour and are capable of recharging, crossing streets, climbing curbs, traveling at night, and operating in rain and snow without human supervision. As a precaution, however, a team of teleoperators monitors their progress and can take control if need be.
Courtesy of an ongoing collaboration between Starship and food and facilities management providers like Sodexo, Starship earlier this year deployed fleets of robots at Northern Arizona University’s Flagstaff campus and George Mason University’s Fairfax campus. That follows on the heels of partnerships with Domino’s in Germany, food-delivery firm Just Eat in London, and DoorDash in the U.S.
Starship offers a $10-per-month commercial package delivery service for businesses and consumer clients, complementing its large-scale commercial meal delivery program for corporate and academic campuses in Europe and the U.S. No matter the offering, delivery customers pay a flat fee of around $1.99.
Starship is far from the only company vying for a slice of the self-driving robots delivery market, which counts among its ranks well-funded startups like Marble, Starship Technologies, Nuro, Robomart, Boxbot, FedEx, Postmates, Dispatch, and Robby. Just this month, Amazon rolled its Scout robots to parts of Southern California, expanding the tech giant’s pilot program from Snohomish County, Washington.
To date, Starship — which was founded in 2014 by Skype veterans Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis — has completed hundreds of trials in nine U.S. states, The District of Columbia, and over 20 countries internationally. It claims its robots have crossed 4 million streets and delivered over 6,000 pizzas, 7,000 gallons of milk, 8,000 coffees, 9,000 sushi rolls, 15,000 bananas, and 3,700 diapers combined.
“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,” said TDK ventures managing director Nicolas Sauvage. “Starship’s machine learning, computer vision, and sensor fusion is the most advanced we’ve seen in autonomous robotic delivery. We look forward to contributing to the success of Starship in this important and emerging space.”