Starship Technologies – launched by Skype cofounders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis in 2014 – delivers breakfast, late-night snacks and everything in between to US university students, ordered via an app.
The bots have been in operation since the beginning of the year at two US universities. With the additional $40m in Series A funding led by Morpheus Ventures – bringing the company’s total funding to $85m – it plans to extend its service.
“This new investment will see Starship expand onto more campuses as we head towards a goal of offering our services to over one million students,” said Lex Bayer, Starship’s CEO.
“There’s going to be a whole generation of students that grow up tapping on their phone when they're hungry and a robot brings food to them.”
Forging the future
The San Francisco-based startup invented the burgeoning category of rolling autonomous sidewalk delivery robots, which has attracted the likes of Amazon, Google, Domino’s Pizza and PepsiCo.
These companies have locked onto the benefits of a delivery service that is much faster, cheaper and more convenient that traditional options.
“It doesn’t make sense for a person in a two-ton vehicle to deliver a burrito to me,” said Bayer.
Starship has settled comfortably into its niche on campus, noting the student population has proven the ideal customer base.
According to Bayer, the younger generation sees the world the way it can be, as they are not encumbered by the past and the way things were done before. They welcome creative solutions.
The company has also received heavy demand from collages, which are not so easily served by food delivery apps like Uber Eats, as there is usually little available parking and campuses often feel like mazes to outsiders.
Starship has overcome this by preloading detailed 3D maps and GPS into the battery-powered bots. They are also equipped with 10 cameras, radar, ultrasound sensors and sophisticated computer vision and neural networks to process what they see.
Starship typically uses 25 to 50 robots per campus. They travel at 4mph, seven days a week, rain or shine, from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., delivering a variety of national and local brands, including Einstein Bros. Bagels, Common Grounds and Roc ‘N Roll’d Sushi. The company hires student workers to maintain, monitor and recharge them.
To-date, the bots have already completed 100,000 deliveries and driven 350,000 miles.