Grubhub and Russian self-driving startup Yandex are teaming up to use robots to deliver food on US college campuses. It represents the latest deal that envisions hundreds of six-wheeled self-driving robots that essentially act as roving lunchboxes in cities across the country.
The robot-powered delivery service won’t kick off until this fall when college students return to campus. Yandex, which is often described as Russia’s Google, will operate the robots, as well as 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 it will get by eliminating the delivery worker from the equation as a potential benefit from the deal with Yandex — though neither company disclosed the financial terms of the partnership. “We’re excited to offer these cost-effective, scalable and quick food ordering and delivery capabilities to colleges and universities across the country that are looking to adapt to students’ unique dining needs,” said Brian Madigan, vice president of corporate and campus partners at Grubhub, in a statement.
Yandex says that its delivery robots can navigate pavement, pedestrian areas and crosswalks, and reach campus areas not accessible by car. “Such functionality enables the robots to handle delivery tasks traditionally performed by people and provides efficient last-mile logistics automation,” the company says.
Food delivery via robot is nothing new in the US. There are many startups operating delivery robots of varying sizes — everything from fully sized 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 carry 50 pounds of cargo. There are even some like Nuro, which has made what can be best described as a mini-robotic car, that fall somewhere in between. All claim to be autonomous, but some require human monitors to track their movements.
Demand for delivery robots has skyrocketed since the pandemic, though it remains to be seen whether that holds up as the economy reopens and fewer people rely on takeout from restaurants.
Delivery services view the use of robots as one of the many ways they can cut down on labor costs and achieve profitability. Earlier this year, DoorDash acquired salad-making robot startup Chowbotics. But most seem to be stuck in the experimental phase, with companies unclear on how exactly to scale up the use of these automated helpers.