Yelp Tests Robot Food Deliveries
The latest autonomous robots to hit the streets with food delivery orders are from Marble, a San Francisco startup that is partnering with Yelp to navigate crowded city streets and deliver your pad thai before it gets cold.
Marble's robots are about waist-height, a bit larger than the dog-sized models of its competitor Starship. They're also brimming with technology borrowed from self-driving cars. Each Marble delivery bot -- there are a few of them cruising the streets of San Francisco's Mission and Potrero Hill neighborhoods -- includes lidar, cameras and ultrasonic sensors to monitor their surroundings.
The idea is that they can avoid pedestrians and safely use crosswalks by relying on the sensor data to locate themselves on the super-accurate 3D maps that Marble is building. The company says it plans to map the majority of San Francisco's sidewalks over the coming year. That map-assisted approach is the same approach that many automakers are taking for self-driving cars, too, including Cadillac's upcoming Super Cruise system.
Visitors and San Francisco residents can order delivery from Yelp's Eat24 app for a chance to be served by a Marble bot. If you're selected, you'll be offered the opportunity to accept the service and the restaurant will then pack your order into one of the robots' cargo bays. Once it arrives, you'll enter an access code to unlock your breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Although delivery robots are still relatively rare, the Marble-Yelp partnership comes as the technology is ripening and the market is heating up. In January, Starship announced partnerships with DoorDash and Postmates to deliver food and other goods within a four-mile range. Last month, Starship also began delivering pizza from Domino's locations in Germany and the Netherlands. If those trials are successful, Domino's could expand the service to more of its 2,000-plus stores worldwide.