Starship Technologies, a startup developing driverless delivery robots, this morning announced is has raised $17 million and added service to UCLA in California and Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. The company also revealed that it has reached the milestone of completing 1 million autonomous deliveries, up from 100,000 deliveries as of August 2019, which Starship claims is a first for an autonomous delivery company.
The autonomous delivery robot market is expected to be worth $34 billion by 2024, up from $11.9 billion in 2018. Some experts predict that the pandemic will hasten the adoption of autonomous vehicles for delivery. Self-driving cars, vans, and trucks promise to minimize the risk of spreading disease by limiting driver contact. This is particularly true with regard to short-haul freight, which is experiencing a spike in volume during the outbreak. The producer price index for local truckload carriage jumped 20.4% from July to August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most likely propelled by demand for short-haul distribution from warehouses and distribution centers to ecommerce fulfillment centers and stores.
Starship, which was founded in 2014 by Skype veterans Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, offers a six-wheeled robot that packs a wealth of electronics, including nine cameras and ultrasonic sensors that afford a 360-degree view of its surroundings. The robot has a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour and is capable of recharging, crossing streets, climbing curbs, traveling at night, and operating in rain and snow without human supervision. As a precaution, a team of teleoperators monitors the robot’s progress and can take control if need be.
On campuses like UCLA, 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 robots — 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 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 $2.
At UCLA, Starship says it’s making deliveries from a list of restaurants that includes Blaze Pizza, Bruin Buzz, Lu Valle, and Southern Lights. At Bridgewater State University, the company says it’s providing delivery from a number of on-campus restaurants, including Starbucks Cafe and Bears Den.
Courtesy of an ongoing collaboration between Starship and food and facilities management providers like Sodexo, in 2018 Starship deployed fleets of robots at Northern Arizona University’s Flagstaff campus and George Mason University’s Fairfax campus. This followed partnerships with Domino’s in Germany, food-delivery firm Just Eat in London, and DoorDash in the U.S. In September and October, Oregon State University and Arizona State University began using Starship’s robots for delivery, as did grocery chain Save Mart at a location in Modesto, California. And in April, Starship launched commercial deployment in the U.K. town of Milton Keynes, where it had been conducting a pilot for two years.
Starship is far from the only company vying for a slice of the self-driving robot delivery market, which counts among its ranks well-funded startups like Marble, Starship Technologies, Nuro, Robomart, Boxbot, FedEx, Yandex, Refraction AI, 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. In a sign of the segment’s increasing competitiveness, Uber-owned Postmates X, the division of Postmates developing autonomous delivery robots, is seeking investors in its bid to become a separate company, according to TechCrunch.
Starship has completed hundreds of trials in the U.S. and over 20 countries internationally. The company claims its robots have traveled millions of miles and make more than 50,000 road crossings every day, and it plans to expand to over 100 campuses in the next two years.
“Completing 1 million deliveries is a milestone that everyone at Starship is celebrating,” Heinla told VentureBeat via email. “We are delivering a fully commercial service operating 24/7 across five different countries now doing thousands of deliveries a day … This scale puts Starship on par with the biggest companies in the self-driving car market when it comes to miles traveled in the last year alone. We’re proud to be offering a crucial service that is now becoming part of everyday life for millions of people.”
TDK Ventures, Goodyear Ventures, and Ambient Sound Investments participated in Starship’s funding round announced today. It brings the company’s total raised to $102 million.
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