- Robotic food delivery company Starship Technologies hit 1 million deliveries this month.
- The company has seen explosive growth due to the pandemic, doubling its robot fleet over 2020.
- It has spotted children trying to feed the robots bananas.
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Starship Technologies, the autonomous delivery company that sends little six-wheeled robots to people’s doorsteps with groceries and takeout, has had an astonishing year.
Starship Technologies was founded by Skype cofounders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis in 2014. Its autonomous deliveries were already starting to ramp up prior to 2020, but the pandemic supercharged its growth. The company hit 1 million autonomous deliveries this month, representing a 900% increase from August 2019 to January 2021. Previously, it took the company five years to hit 100,000 deliveries.
Food delivery is one of the few industries that has received a boost from the pandemic, and Starship had the added bonus that its delivery robots made its service truly contactless.
“We have definitely seen our orders skyrocket,” Heinla told Insider in an interview, adding that in the UK market Starship has increased its delivery rate by fivefold since the start of the pandemic.
To keep up with the huge surges in food delivery brought on by lockdowns, the company needed more wheels on the ground. It more than doubled its fleet of food-delivery robots to roughly 1,000 over the course of last year, and Heinla told Insider the it plans to add thousands more over the course of 2021.
Starship has robots operating in cities and university campuses around the US, the UK, and parts of Europe. In some places they have become enough of a mainstay that local children have tried to feed them.
“Kids are feeding the robots bananas on the street,” Heinla said, adding this had been observed multiple times in the English town of Milton Keynes. “But robots are not hungry for bananas really,” he added.
A Starship spokesperson said the company had documented at least five separate instances of different children trying to feed the robots. This marks a welcome change, as in 2018 Heinla told Insider some pedestrians had given Starship’s robots the odd kick as they rolled by.
Heinla sees the attempted feedings as a sign the robots becoming a part of everyday life. “Our robots really are a part of the community. If you live in one of these areas where our service operates, it’s impossible to live there without knowing that our robots exist,” he said.
Starship also announced on Wednesday it has secured $17 million in funding, meaning it has raised a total $102 million to date. Heinla told Insider this was to tide the company over, rather than being a fully blown funding round.
“We decided to do a bridge round because the pandemic generally brought a lot of instability into the world,” he said, adding the company is planning to pursue a fully fledged funding round in 2021 once the world economy has stabilized.
Insider spoke to Starship’s CEO Lex Bayer in 2019 when it announced its last fundraise of $85 million, and at the time, Bayer said the company’s focus was capturing the young student market.
Heinla said the company is still focused on bringing its robots to university campuses, but the pandemic means it’s been able to bring forward plans to aggressively pursue consumers in city neighborhoods.
Along with its most recent funding round Starship announced it was expanding to the UCLA and Bridgewater State University campuses. Heinla said the company plans to expand to more cities and campuses in the UK and the US.
When asked whether 2021 could mean demand for robot delivery tapers off, with consumers getting more used to lockdowns and vaccines hopefully gradually easing restrictions, Heinla said he’s not worried.
“We have seen with the lockdowns in the UK when a lockdown happens our order numbers triple, but then when lockdown ends the order numbers don’t go back to the same level. They drop a little bit, but not all that much. So people got used to the habit, they love our service,” he said.