Serve Robotics has raised $13m to accelerate its path to commercial scale

Serve Robotics, an autonomous sidewalk delivery robot company, has closed on a $13m seed funding round, which included big investors: Uber; Delivery Hero-backed DX Ventures; 7-Ventures LLC, 7-Eleven’s corporate venture arm, and Wavemaker Labs, among others.

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New funding will help accelerate the scaling of the company’s robotic platform, support geographic expansion, and drive continued product development. Within the next two to three years, the company would like to see its robots in every major US city.

Serve Robotics has had an interesting journey

Serve Robotics was founded in 2017 as a robotics division of Postmates. The company designs, develops and operates zero-emissions rovers that serve people in public spaces.

They are about a meter-high, with colorful, LED-laden exteriors that conceal a suite of sensors including RGB cameras, sonar, time-of-flight sensors, GPS, and lidar. The control panel, which sits off to the side, contains a “Help” button and a video chat display as well as a touchscreen panel. A top hatch conceals a cargo compartment that is unlocked with a phone app or a passcode.

Serve Robotics delivery robots have completed tens of thousands of contactless deliveries in major US cities since their roll out in 2019, starting with food delivery. According to Postmates, the Serve robot could carry 50 pounds and travel 30 miles. In July 2020, Postmates was acquired by Uber.

The Serve Robotics’ previous funding round in March 2021, led by venture capital firm Neo, with participation from Uber amongst other investors, allowed the company to spin out of Postmates’ robotics division as an independent company.

Pandemic revealed the need for sustainable, self-driving delivery

The pandemic has boosted the emergence of companies developing delivery robots small enough to navigate crosswalks, sidewalks, and corporate campuses. Robots help minimize human-to-human contact and can also fill in when there is a shortage of delivery drivers.

Serve Robotics has a major advantage in this market, with Uber’s backing and access to the company’s existing delivery infrastructure. The company has already announced that it will be delivering food to UberEats customers in Los Angeles starting in 2022. Serve Robotics is also likely to get a major boost from its 7-Eleven partnership thanks to the chain’s large footprint and its 24-hour food and alcohol delivery service, 7Now.

Other examples of companies seizing the opportunities of this market include Yandex, partnering with Grubhub to provide university campus partners the ability to deploy robots on-site for faster deliveries. Kiwibot (which has linked up with Chick-fil-A) with its autonomous delivery robots delivers sanitary supplies, masks, antibacterial gels, and hygiene products in the communities of Berkeley, California and Denver, Colorado. Starship Technologies is now delivering food on 20 US campuses.

Delivery robots offer a chance to make short distances and small orders more profitable by eliminating labor costs associated with couriers. However, the search for delivery cost-saving extends beyond small robots; for example, Domino’s is testing autonomous delivery cars with Nuro, while Chipotle has invested in the self-driving delivery company. About 50% of US restaurant operators said they plan to use automation technology to help fill labor gaps in the next two to three years. According to industry forecasts, driverless rovers like Serve’s will make up 85% of last-mile deliveries by 2025.