By April Glaser.
If you live in San Francisco, your next take-out order may be delivered by a robot.
Marble, a robot delivery startup, is now hitting the streets of San Francisco’s relatively flat Mission and Potrero Hill districts in a new partnership with Yelp’s Eat24 to deliver food in the evenings.
At this point, the robots will always be accompanied by a person walking alongside them in case something goes awry, though the rovers will be driving autonomously.
Marble’s robots don’t look anything like other delivery rovers out there. For one, they take up about as much space as a mobility scooter, which is a pretty big footprint on a crowded city sidewalk. They’re also taller than waist height — though the height can change depending on the size of the cargo bay attached to its base. Still, this is not a petite vehicle.
For comparison, the robots made by Starship Technologies, an Estonian-based delivery robot company, are much smaller than Marble’s machines and clock in at little under two feet tall. Starship already has been conducting tests in Washington, D.C., and Redwood City, Calif., since January.
Not all of Eat24’s take-out customers in the designated San Francisco neighborhoods will receive robot service. When an order is placed, if it fits the profile of where the rover can go and what it can carry, a customer may receive a notification with the chance to opt-in for a robot delivery.
For this trial, only a “small handful” of robots will be at work, which was described to me as fewer than 10. The robots will travel at walking speed, navigating thanks to an array of onboard sensors and lidar, as well as maps Marble has made of the neighborhoods where their robots roam.
Marble also announced it received $4 million in seed funding today. The round was led by Eclipse and included investments from Maven Ventures, Amplify Partners and Lemnos Labs.
Last year, Dispatch, another robot-delivery startup, secured $2 million in seed funding from Andreessen Horowitz and has completed pilot programs at two universities in California. In January, Starship announced that it had raised $17.2 million in seed funding.
Ground-based delivery robots are supposed to help tackle the “last mile” problem — the time-intensive door-to-door work of delivering food and online orders directly to people’s homes, a job currently done by humans. If the concept ever comes full swing, robot delivery may make sense for startups that are trying to offer on-demand delivery services, a business model that sounds good in theory but has proven incredibly difficult to execute.