Grubhub and the Russian self-driving start-up Yandex are working together to use robots to deliver food to US colleges. It represents the latest deal that calls for hundreds of six-wheeled self-propelled robots, essentially acting as roving lunch boxes in cities across the country.
The robot-powered delivery service won’t start until the fall, when college students return to campus. Often referred to as Russia’s Google, Yandex will operate the robots and handle the entire food delivery process. Grubhub, which has partnerships with over 250 college campuses in the US, will serve as the platform for the delivery transactions.
Grubhub cited the cost savings achieved by eliminating the delivery worker from the equation as a potential benefit of the deal with Yandex – although neither company disclosed the financial terms of the partnership. „We are excited to offer colleges and universities across the country these affordable, scalable, and fast food ordering and delivery options that address the unique culinary needs of students,” said Brian Madigan, vice president of Corporate and Campus Partners at Grubhub, in a statement.
Yandex says its delivery robots can navigate sidewalks, pedestrian zones and zebra crossings, and reach campus areas that are inaccessible by car. „This functionality enables the robots to take over delivery tasks that are traditionally performed by humans and offers efficient automation of logistics on the last mile,” says the company.
Robotic food delivery is nothing new in the US. There are plenty of startups that run delivery robots of different sizes – everything from large minivans like Udelv to robots that look almost identical to Yandex’s like Amazon and Starship. Postmates has a delivery robot called Serve that can move 50 pounds of cargo. There are even some like Nuro who have done what can best be called mini-robots that are somewhere in between. All claim to be autonomous, but some require human monitors to track their movements.
The demand for delivery robots has skyrocketed since the pandemic, but it remains to be seen whether this will last with the reopening of the economy and fewer people relying on takeout from restaurants.
Delivery services see the use of robots as one of many ways to reduce labor costs and achieve profitability. At the beginning of this year, DoorDash acquired the robot startup Chowbotics for making salad. Most seem stuck in the experimental phase, however, as companies don’t know how to precisely scale the use of these automated helpers.