Should DoorDash Build its Own Robots?

The Robot Report revealed DoorDash designs for their own delivery robots.

The Robot Report scooped the news yesterday that DoorDash has been developing and filing patents for its own autonomous delivery robots. From that Robot Report story:

The patents don’t reveal too much about the specs of the robot. In one patent, DoorDash describes an autonomous vehicle that could carry two to three 22-inch pizza boxes. DoorDash uses the words “various embodiments,” meaning the size and storage capacities could differ going forward. According to the patent, the vehicle could navigate pedestrian pathways, sidewalks, bike lanes and roadways in residential areas. The vehicle could reach speeds between 18-25 mph and weigh between 200-300 lb.

Quick note: Maybe it’s just because I’m old, but does DoorDash’s illustration above remind anyone else of the vintage animated character Speed Buggy?

I can’t not see it.

Anyway.

The Robot Report’s story follows DoorDash’s announcement last week that it was officially launching an autonomous+robotics division dubbed DoorDash Labs. The new group even brought on Ashu Rege, formerly of self-driving startup Zoox, as its new Vice President of Autonomy. So it appears to be serious about autonomous delivery.


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As I wrote last week, it’s not a surprise that DoorDash would get into the robot delivery game. It basically has to. Full-sized cars driven by humans is not the best way to get customers one hamburger and fries. It causes traffic congestion, is bad for the environment, and isn’t terribly efficient.

And it’s no surprise that DoorDash would be fiddling around with its own robot design. The delivery service has dabbled in robot delivery before with the likes of Marble, Starship and Cruise Automation. DoorDash also acquired Chowbotics, the robot vending machine startup, earlier this year. So it has the expertise in-house.

DoorDash gave Robot Report a we work on a lot of things-type non-answer answer. So we don’t know how much DoorDash is committed to these particular patent designs moving forward.

The bigger question is — should DoorDash spend time developing its own robot? What does DoorDash gain from that kind of vertical integration?

There are good reasons for DoorDash to be developing its own bot. At the time of the Chowbotics acquisition, the company said that it could use Chowbotics robo vending tech as part of DashMart, DoorDash’s chain of delivery-only convenience stores. Designing all of its own robots would allow DoorDash to integrate delivery robots with its Chowbotics (or other) retail robots. The end result would be a completely autonomous, end-to-end retail and delivery solution that could run 24 hours a day.

Having it’s own robot, or different robot types, would also provide DoorDash with more control over its autonomous delivery product. If it’s controlling all the sensors and chips and lidar and software managing all of its robot fleets, DoorDash could create more efficiencies (faster routes, rapid response when problems arise, etc.). This in turn would make deliveries faster, allowing more to happen per hour to generate more revenue per robot.

But honestly, do those gains outweigh the cost of DoorDash designing, prototyping and scaling up production of its own robot hardware and software? Aren’t they then locked into whatever solution they come up with?

Uber Eats, which was briefly in the delivery robot game via it’s acquisition of Postmates, got out of the delivery robot biz earlier this year by spinning out Serve Robotics as its own thing. Uber didn’t want to build its logistics technology, preferring to have access to whatever the best technology is. Now Uber Eats and Serve are partnering for delivery in Los Angeles starting next year — and Uber has the ability to partner with any other robot delivery company it wants as it expands robot delivery.

Because there are plenty of great delivery robot partners out there! Kiwibot, Starship, Coco, Ottonomy, Refraction AI — just to name a few. Plus, a company like Intermode already makes basic delivery robots that can be customized however you like. DoorDash could fasten whatever sensors and cameras and widgets it wants onto Intermode’s chassis, and Intermode takes care of the manufacturing.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about DoorDash’s robo-plans. It may be going full steam for very good reasons or have abandoned them altogether.


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