(Bloomberg)—Your next meal could be delivered to you by a robot.
Postmates Inc., which shuttles food from restaurants to hungry customers, unveiled Thursday a bright-yellow, Minion-looking cube on wheels dubbed Serve. The little rover will initially be deployed in Los Angeles, but Postmates aims to roll out more of them in other cities across the U.S. in the next 12 months.
San Francisco-based Postmates is betting that robots can drive down costs for consumers and is seeking to get out ahead in the ultra-competitive food-delivery business. Postmates currently does more than 4 million deliveries a month. It said Serve will enhance its fleet of 350,000 people and enable it to complete even more deliveries more efficiently.
“We were able to use data to model how food and goods could move around,” CEO Bastian Lehmann said. “Ultimately, we believe that goods should move through cities at nearly zero cost to consumers.”
Competition in the restaurant-delivery business includes big names like GrubHub Inc., Square Inc., Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 500) and Uber Technologies Inc. Many are trying to lure customers to their apps via steep discounts and promotions that usually cost the delivery companies money. Earlier this year, a funding round led by Tiger Global Management gave Postmates some additional backing—and a $1.2 billion valuation. Lehmann said in September that the company is eyeing an initial public offering in 2019.
Serve, which will be able to roll alongside people on the sidewalk, has an interactive touch screen to allow communication with humans. Lehmann said Postmates has developed a “rover-human interface” so that people understand what the robots are doing at any given moment. Each rover can carry 50 pounds and travel 30 miles on a single charge.
In addition to delivering food to customers, Serve can work in congested city centers and bring food or goods from several different merchants to one centralized location where Postmates’ drivers, bikers and walkers then take up the orders and complete the delivery.Favorite