DoorDash Officially Launches Robotics and Automation Arm

Looks like DoorDash Labs is starting things off with middle mile delivery.

DoorDash today announced it is officially getting into the robotics and automation game through its DoorDash Labs. According to a corporate blog post, DoorDash Labs’ mission is “to find, develop, and integrate automation and robotic solutions that improve the way we operate and serve our communities.”

Labs was created back in 2018, but the company is now putting some muscle behind it. In its blog post, DoorDash said that over the past few years, it has been testing robotics solutions from Starship, Marble and Cruise Automation. And, of course earlier this year, the company bought robot vending machine company, Chowbotics.

The company didn’t provide many details, so we don’t know which, if any robot delivery/logistics startups it plans on working with — or if it’s developing its own delivery robot.

From the corporate blog post, it looks like an initial foray into automation could be the company’s middle mile. From the DoorDash blog post:

For example, in automating the middle mile, we could reduce the individual effort for each delivery, which we anticipate could enable Dashers to fulfill more orders in the same time period and potentially earn more, more quickly. 

Drawing on years of operational experience and identified needs within DoorDash, the Labs team is exploring a ‘hub to hub model’. In this instance, we would aggregate orders in an area with high merchant density, like a shopping mall or DashMart, and have a robot ferry the order to a consumer hub––thus moving the Dasher pickup location closer to the delivery point.

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As we’ve covered before, automating the middle mile is smart, because its fixed routes reduce variability for self-driving systems, and allows them to get to market faster. It also basically creates a conveyor belt between two locations within a business.

We’ve also seen this type of delivery aggregation over in Singapore with Grab’s AHBOI robot consolidating orders and bringing them outside so delivery drivers don’t have to venture through a mall.

To make Door Dash Labs even more official, the company has installed Ashu Rege as its new Vice President of Autonomy. Rege joins DoorDash from Zoox, and was previously at Nvidia working on programs around computer vision and self-driving vehicles.

Getting into autonomy is a logical/necessary next step for a service like DoorDash. A human driving a two-ton car to carry two tacos to your door step doesn’t make any sense. Turning those kinds of jobs over to robots not only alleviates traffic congestion (and lowers the environmental impact), but it also gives DoorDash more insight and control over its delivery fleet. It controls all the vehicles and can better plan a web of deliveries.

DoorDash Labs is also coming on line when there are a plethora of robot delivery companies to partner with: Starship, Coco, Serve (which recently partnered with Uber Eats), Refraction AI and Kiwibot.

Long-term, it’s easy to see that autonomy will extend even further up the stack for DoorDash to include automated DashMart’s a la StoreXapp + Kiwibot. Robot powered store fills up robot to autonomously deliver snacks and food to your front door.

The technology is there, now DoorDash Labs just needs to deliver.