5 Food Delivery Robots that Help Restaurants Reduce Labor Costs

As appetites for convenience and speed continue to drive change in our industry, restaurants are embracing efficiency and cost optimization in new, tech-infused ways. Delivery robots are set to redefine the recipe for success in our restaurants. These autonomous couriers have the potential to drastically reduce the labor cost associated with delivery. They can operate around the clock, as well, and they increase restaurants’ capacities for fulfilling orders.

In this feature, we’ll explore the food delivery robot industry’s pioneers, and take a look at the most notable restaurants seeing success with this technology today.

How does a food delivery robot work?

But first, what are food delivery robots? Food delivery robots are like small, self-driving cars that carry food from restaurants to your home. They use special maps and sensors to find their way around the streets, similar to how your phone’s GPS works. 

Once one of these robots reaches your house, all that’s left for you to do is open its compartment and take your food. These robots are designed to be very safe and efficient, making sure your meal gets to you quickly and without any mix-ups.

Food delivery robot companies

Now that we have a basic understanding of how food delivery robots work, let’s take a closer look into the companies responsible for making this concept a reality for many today.

1. Nuro

Founded in June 2016 by former Google engineers Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, this startup has made significant strides in revolutionizing the delivery landscape. Their mission is to accelerate the value of robotics for everyday life through autonomous delivery. Over the years, Nuro has successfully raised $2 billion in funding by aligning itself with formidable partners like Uber, Walmart, and Kroger. This growth demonstrate the company’s strong presence in the evolving autonomous vehicle industry.

A white, four-wheeled, autonomous delivery robot by Nuro.

Nuro’s second-generation vehicle, the R2, is a self-driving electric delivery van that travels on public roads. It’s equipped with lidar, radar, and cameras to provide a 360º view of its surroundings. Additionally, Nuro plans to launch a third-generation vehicle in late 2023, simply named “Nuro”. This next-gen vehicle will feature twice the cargo volume of the R2, and will come equipped with customizable, temperature-controlled storage compartments. These vehicles are being prepared for deployment at Nuro’s new $40 million end-of-line manufacturing facility in southern Nevada.

The company recently gained approval to operate an autonomous vehicle delivery service in California, a significant achievement given the state’s stringent regulations on autonomous vehicles.  In 2022, Nuro embarked on a 10-year commercial partnership with Uber, leveraging its autonomous delivery vehicles to shuttle meals and other goods to Uber Eats customers.

Nuro’s autonomous delivery solutions have significantly impacted the food and restaurant industries. Brands like Uber Eats, Domino’s Pizza, and Chipotle Mexican Grill are already using the company’s vehicles for delivery. Nuro’s robots enhance operational efficiency and offer a unique customer experience, paving the way for the future of restaurant innovation.

2. Starship Technologies

Starship Technologies, created by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis in 2014, is a pioneer in autonomous delivery services. The company operates globally from its headquarters in San Francisco and engineering office in Estonia, working to transform the delivery industry through advanced technology. Their self-driving, six-wheeled robots are electric and can deliver up to 20 pounds of cargo within a four-mile radius, using cameras to navigate urban environments and avoid obstacles.

A row of 6 autonomous delivery robots by Starship Technologies.

Since its inception, Starship Technologies has seen substantial success. The company has completed over 4 million autonomous deliveries worldwide, operates thousands of robots daily, and has raised over $202 million in funding, including a recent $42 million equity boost. This funding supports Starship Technologies’ expansion and diversification efforts, allowing it to venture into new markets and services.

Starship Technologies currently works with national chains like Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Qdoba to offer cost and energy-efficient last-mile deliveries. This technology helps restaurants extend delivery services without the need for additional staff, reducing labor costs, increasing delivery volumes, and extending operational hours.

3. Serve Robotics

First established as the robotics division of Postmates in 2017, Serve Robotics is another leader in the autonomous delivery industry. In 2021, it became an independent company, backed by major investors like Uber, 7-Eleven, and Delivery Hero’s corporate venture units.

Serve’s zero-emission robots are equipped with technologies like lidar, ultrasonics, and cameras. Additional features include automatic emergency braking and vehicle collision avoidance protocols to ensure safe, efficient delivery. Powered by NVIDIA’s Jetson platform and Ouster sensors, these robots operate with high self-driving capabilities.

A yellow, four-wheeled, autonomous delivery robot by Serve Robotics.

Achieving a milestone in autonomous vehicle technology, Serve Robotics has successfully deployed its machines at Level 4 autonomy. This means that Serve’s robots can perform all driving functions under certain conditions, and can complete commercial deliveries without the need for constant human oversight. The company has fulfilled tens of thousands of contactless deliveries in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas alone.

Serve Robotics’ technology is transforming the restaurant industry by providing reliable, round-the-clock delivery service. This mitigates issues like driver shortages, and offers customers a sustainable, contactless delivery option. The company plans to further expand its reach by rolling out delivery service for Uber Eats and other partners throughout 2023.

4. Kiwibot

Kiwibot, an autonomous last-mile delivery startup, was founded in 2017 by Felipe Chavez. Using advanced robotics, Kiwibot enhances the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of restaurant delivery, making a significant impact on campuses and offices worldwide. The company’s delivery robots, called “Kiwibots”, are equipped with Level 4 autonomy, advanced GPS navigation systems, and obstacle sensors. Aside from providing delivery, these robots serve as mobile advertisers and city mappers, improving pedestrian infrastructure.

A white, four-wheeled, autonomous delivery robot with a smiling face by Kiwibot.

Kiwibot has recently seen several notable successes, deploying over 500 robots across 26 campuses in the U.S. and completing over 250,000 food deliveries, and building more than 100 robots per month. In 2023, the company secured a $10 million financing partnership with Kineo Finance and raised over $20 million in Series A funding. Kiwibot was also the first company to integrate its autonomous delivery services into a department of transportation.

In the restaurant industry, Kiwibot’s services have proven extremely beneficial, alleviating major pain points associated with last-mile delivery. The company’s partnerships with platforms like GrubHub expands its delivery reach, capturing a wider customer base. Kiwibot’s ability to quickly and flexibly build robotic couriers presents a significant advantage for businesses looking to implement advanced technology in their delivery strategy.

5. Refraction AI

Founded in 2019 by Will Coleman and Luke Schneider in Ann Arbor, Refraction AI creates autonomous delivery robots designed to efficiently deliver food, groceries, and other items. About the size of a bicycle, these robots can carry up to 100 pounds of cargo. They navigate autonomously in urban areas using an array of sensors including cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors. The robots also feature a collision avoidance system and a panic button for safety, and operate on a mix of solar and battery power with the capacity to travel up to 10 miles on a single charge.

A futuristic-looking, three-wheeled, autonomous delivery robot by Refraction AI.

Having raised over $100 million from investors like Y Combinator, Sequoia Capital, and SoftBank Vision Fund, Refraction AI has made a significant mark on the delivery landscape with over 100,000 successful orders in cities like Ann Arbor and Austin. The company’s innovative approach to autonomous delivery has the potential to greatly impact the restaurant industry by providing swift, contactless service. This makes it easier for customers to receive their orders, and potentially reduces traffic congestion.

A new standard in cost-effective food delivery

The advent of food delivery robots is significantly reshaping the restaurant industry’s cost structure. Robots developed by companies like Nuro, Starship Technologies, Serve Robotics, Kiwibot, and Refraction AI are emerging as potent tools that restaurants can use to optimize delivery expenses. Their ability to provide dependable, 24/7 service reduces labor costs and increases operational efficiency.

As these advanced technologies continue to evolve, they promise not just innovation, but a new standard in cost-effective food delivery. The journey of these robots represents a potential revolution in the restaurant industry’s cost management strategy.

Further reading

Want to learn more about the future of food delivery? Check out our article on 5 drone delivery companies helping restaurants today!

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