AI Funding Surges, DoorDash & Uber Post Strong Q1, Sweetgreen's First Automated Kitchen
Plus: new Federal policies, Viam robot OS, Caytu comes to BYU
Fundraising for capital intensive companies remains challenging, as anyone tuning in to Friday’s conversation with Clayton Wood heard firsthand. But companies working in the red-hot AI space seem to be the exception to the rule, as new data bears out. The past week also saw some big financial results for delivery platforms, Sweetgreen sharing details on its automated kitchen, an African delivery robot company head to the US, and more.
ChatGPT Fever Fuels AI Investment Largesse
The overall market for venture investments may have cooled off, but not if your company is working in the AI space. Investors, hoping to find the next OpenAI, are pouring hundreds of millions into the space, even funding companies that have yet to create business models. Recent funding success stories include Essential AI, Anthropic, and Eleven Labs. For struggling startups in the more “staid” robotics, automation, and food technology spaces, perhaps try cramming the words “generative” or “large learning model” into your next announcement, and see if that spawns some new interest? Looks like online ordering platform Talabat is already trying that route…
White House Announces Slew of AI Policy Updates
Speaking of AI, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new actions aimed at promoting responsible artificial intelligence innovation in the U.S. while safeguarding Americans' rights and safety.
Key announcements include:
$140 million in funding from the National Science Foundation to launch seven new National AI Research Institutes, bringing the total to 25 across the country. These institutes foster collaboration between higher education institutions, federal agencies, industry, and others to advance AI research that is ethical, responsible, and serves the public good.
Public assessments of existing generative AI systems, with leading AI developers, including Anthropic, Google, Hugging Face, Microsoft, NVIDIA, OpenAI, and Stability AI, participating in a public evaluation at the AI Village at DEFCON 31. The evaluation will assess the models in terms of their alignment with the principles and practices outlined in the Biden-Harris Administration's Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and AI Risk Management Framework.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will release draft policy guidance on the use of AI systems by the U.S. government for public comment. This guidance will establish specific policies for federal departments and agencies to ensure the responsible development, procurement, and use of AI systems that safeguard the rights and safety of the American people.
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DoorDash & Uber Announce Strong Q1s
With much of the food automation sector working with third party delivery platforms (as well as food service firms,) it’s worth checking on the health of those 3PDs from time to time. Last week DoorDash and Uber released their Q1 quarterly reports, and both look to be doing well. Uber Eats grew delivery bookings 8% YoY to $15.03 billion, while at DoorDash they were up 29% to $15.91 billion.
Sweetgreen to Unveil Automated Kitchen
Sweetgreen is set to open its first automated kitchen, called the "Infinite Kitchen," in Naperville, Illinois, this Wednesday. A second automated makeline will open in a refurbished unit sometime in 2023. Sweetgreen's CEO Jonathan Neman expects the automated kitchen design to yield significant labor savings, as about half of the restaurant's variable labor costs come from production or assembly. Sweetgreen has been teasing this development since late last year, and has been tinkering in the space since its acquisition of Spyce in 2021. Investors reacted positively to the news, as the money-losing salad giant has long struggled to rein in labor costs.
Viam Releases Robot Operating System
Viam announced the general release of its new software tool, which aims to ease robotic development, building, and prototyping. Founded by Eliot Horowitz, the former CTO and co-founder of MongoDB, Viam Robotics aims to establish a platform for robotic development based on safe and performant cloud-computing principles. The platform allows users to prototype quickly and manage robot fleets and data on the same platform, expediting development. Features include data management, machine learning, fleet management, and built-in robotics services such as Motion, SLAM, and Vision. Viam is dedicated to being open-source and flexible, offering modular components and an upcoming community registry for developers to collaborate and share resources.
Caytu Delivery Robots Head to BYU
Senegalese startup CAYTU is bringing its food delivery robots to Brigham Young University, in Utah. Back by Wuri Ventures and telecom giant Orange, the milestone also sees the African company collaborating with BYU academics as part of the rollout. CAYTU is taking a novel approach to the piloting of its semi-autonomous hardware, as it crowdsources the drivers that remotely operate the sidewalk-roaming vehicles.