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12/06/2021

Uber-backed robotic delivery company raises $13 million

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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A Serve Robotics autonomous delivery robot.

Serve Robotics is receiving backing from investors including 7-Eleven Inc.'s corporate venture arm.

Initially founded as the robotics division of on-demand delivery platform Postmates in 2017 and then spun off as an independent company in February 2021 (after Postmates was acquired by Uber in July 2020), Serve Robotics provides self-driving robots which the company says have completed tens of thousands of contactless deliveries in major U.S. cities.

On Monday, Dec. 6, Serve Robotics closed a $13 million expanded seed funding round, with participation from strategic investors Uber Technologies Inc., 7-Eleven Inc.'s corporate venture arm 7-Ventures LLC, Delivery Hero-backed DX Ventures LLC, and Wavemaker Partners' food automation-focused venture studio Wavemaker Labs.

7-Eleven offers delivery via third-party platforms including Uber Eats and Postmates, and recently began partnering with self-driving vehicle company Nuro in an autonomous delivery pilot in Mountain View, Calif. The retailer also offers proprietary on-demand delivery services via its 7NOW app.

The new round extends Serve's previous seed funding and includes participation by existing seed investors including Neo, Western Technology Investment, and Scott Banister. The company plans to use the capital to accelerate its commercial scale and drive its fleet expansion, geographic growth, and continued product development.

Postmates (then an independent company) initially deployed Serve in Los Angeles in July 2019. Serve utilizes the Ouster LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensor to help manage activities such as navigating sidewalks and detecting pedestrians. Postmates combines its proprietary Socially-Aware-Navigation system with Ouster’s multi-beam flash LIDAR architecture.

The rollout of Serve followed Amazon’s January 2019 announcement of a similar, cooler-shaped, six-wheeled autonomous device called Scout that makes short-range deliveries by traveling sidewalks. Since Amazon kicked off the trend with Scout, retailers and delivery providers have been showing increasing interest in autonomous robots that can quickly make smaller deliveries by traveling sidewalks.

Examples include the FedEx SameDayBot; as well as the Tortoise remote-controlled, zero-emission delivery cart being piloted by Safeway and ShopRite; SaveMart Starship; and the Yandex delivery robots Grubhub is piloting at Ohio State University.

Uber is also launching its Serve robotic delivery pilot as the company is generally expanding its presence in the on-demand delivery market. Other moves Uber has made in the space in recent months include purchasing alcohol delivery platform Drizly for $1.1 billion; as well as entering delivery partnerships with retailers including AlbertsonsWalgreensBed Bath & Beyond, and Rite Aid.

"Uber and Serve share a commitment to convenience and reliability," said Sarfraz Maredia, VP and head of Uber Eats in North America. "As a Serve investor, we're excited to help shape self-driving delivery technology that can meet changing consumer and merchant needs."

"Our vision at 7-Eleven is to be the first choice for convenience – anytime, anywhere. We are redefining convenience by delivering innovative shopping solutions to our customers," said Raghu Mahadevan, 7-Eleven senior VP and chief digital officer. "This collaboration will allow us to continue our 94-year legacy of innovation and expand our last-mile delivery capabilities to make 7NOW more affordable, sustainable and accessible for everyone."

"Serve Robotics is pleased to have the backing of strong strategic partners able to support our intention to provide sustainable, self-driving delivery at scale," said Dr. Ali Kashani, co-founder and CEO of Serve Robotics. "This initial round of financial and strategic support will allow us to continue advancing our technology, growing our team, and expanding our partnership platform."