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Sodexo's Power Play for College Campuses
Plus: Rise of the ramen robots, Flytrexas, infrastructure and we wax on about 🐝!
Sodexo Gives Food Automation the ‘Ole College Try
I’ll admit there are times when I wish I was back at college. While there is some desire to expand my mind, it’s probably more about being that young and carefree again (with a higher metabolism).
But if I was ever looking to go back to college, now would be the time to do it, especially since Sodexo has put together quite an arsenal of automation to roll out on college campuses across the country.
Let’s start with Sodexo’s announcement this week that it has parternered with AiFi to open up a line of Eat>NOW autonomous grocery stores and it’s continuing its relationship with hot ramen vending machine startup, Yo-Kai Express. This news follows the investment and strategic partnership Sodexo did with robot delivery company Kiwibot in February of this year (which plans to have 1,200 robots across 55 campuses by the end of this year).
All of these solutions can be rolled out with little to no build out on the college’s part, and require minimal staffing. Yo-Kai’s machine is self-contained, so it can be installed pretty much anywhere on a campus. AiFi makes pop-up-like NanoStores that can be placed in a large enough space with access to power. And Kiwibots just need a place to park and power up before scurrying about.
More important, however, is that Sodexo doesn’t need a lot of human labor to run these programs. Like just about every other company in the foodservice sector, Sodexo is facing a labor crunch. Autonomous stores, vending machines and delivery robots just need someone to re-stock and/or maintain them.
But the bigger trend worth noting here is how ahead of the automation trend Sodexo is right now. All of these autonomous pieces are already at market. Meaning it can turnaround and sell them all to different colleges right now. And colleges looking to expand their student services will be hard pressed to turn down the allure of 24/7 retail, ramen or delivery.
On an even more macro level, colleges that employ food robots will train an upcoming generation to use and expect autonomous services like delivery robots, high-end vending machines, and unattended retail. That, in turn, will create more demand for all of these sectors post-college.
As if to prove this point, this week Starship, another delivery robot company, announced the results of a survey it recently conducted with more than 7,000 college students. Starship found that more than 60 precent of respondents placed at least one robot delivery order per week. With 64 percent of respondents saying they didn’t skip meals because of the convenience of robot delivery, this initial traction is on its way to becoming a habit for students as delivery robots continue to scale at schools.
When it comes to foodservice innovation, right now Sodexo is putting on a master class. Pay attention.
And now, for something completely different, yet still related to food robots:
Even Homer Simpson in Hell didn’t eat a donut that masterfully.
Noodling Around with Ramen Robots
I used to write that if you wanted to see the future of food robotics, you should look at pizza. But I might have to change my cuisine example, given the recent news around ramen.
It all kicked off at the beginning of this month when Nissan released a video of its small autonomous car carrying hot bowls of ramen to customers sitting around a restaurant countertop (without spilling!). Then Yo-Kai Express (again!) installed its first ramen vending machine robot at the Haneda Airport in Tokyo. No sooner had the ink dried on that story when we saw that the Hidakaya ramen restaurant chain in Japan is now using 50 server robots. (Hat tip to SoraNews24)
I don’t know if there’s a bigger, ramen-specific trend here. It could just be that ramen is a Japanese staple, and that country has an aging population. Robots are one way they can still serve those delicious noodles without needing a large human labor pool to do so.
Regardless of the reason ramen + robots = awesome, every time.
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Flytrex Flies Right into Texas
The stars at night are big and bright (clap, clap, clap, clap) Deep in the heart of Texas.
The prairie sky is wide and high [and now has drones delivering burritos] deep in the heart of Texas.
Drone delivery startup Flytrex announced this week that it has expanded its U.S. operations from North Carolina to the Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW) area of Texas. The Lone Star State, of course, just has to do everything bigger. So it’s no wonder that the DFW area will also be home to Google Wing’s drone delivery service as well.
So why did Flytrex pick DFW? As Flytrex Co-Founder and CEO Yariv Bash told me:
“It starts with weather and arispace class, population density, family income, how many restaurants there are,” Bash said. “We zoomed in on DFW as interesting because there are a lot of towns.”
As I write back on the site, though it will take a while to get through the regulatory hurdles, I’m bullish on drone delivery. If you’re in Grandbury, Texas, download the Flytrex app to see which restaurants are participating and order yourself a burger-by-air.
As for the rest of us? Well, I guess we’ll just wait until Flytrex and Wing realize there are other states in this union.
It’s Infrastructure Week
Don’t skip this story!
Look. I know infrastructure isn’t the most exciting thing to read about when it comes to ROBOTS, but it’s a necessary component of our autonomous future. This was driven home this week with two different announcements made on completely different sides of the planet.
Down in Australia, Domino’s Pizza announced it was upgrading it telecom network. Yawn if you want, but a more robust network means Domino’s can lay the groundwork for more drone delivery. And drones are very cool.
Here in the U.S., self-driving delivery truck startup Gatik and EV charging network Chargepoint announced they were teaming up to create an electric charging ecosystem for autonomous trucks.
Two things our automated future needs are power and connectivity. Investing today for that future is a smart play.
You know what else is important to our robot-filled future? Bees.
Bees are important because they pollinate crops, and you need crops to make food, and if there’s no food, delivery robots have nothing to carry (and we descend into a Mad Max-ian apocalyptic wasteland). I hate to say it, but bees are in trouble. Their populations are declining and need help.
Beewise, which just raised an $80 million Series C this week, is one startup pitching in with a robot apiary. The company has developed a solar-powered autonomous beehive that regulates temperatures, keeps out pest and predators, and helps protect bees during fires and floods.
The bottom line is, if we don’t protect the bees, we are all going to get stung.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading!
Stay cool. Have a great summer. Class of ‘90 rulez.