Fortunately, food technology has come a long way in developing robotics and automation in these last 18 months. Automated solutions in the kitchen will be well established by Q3 of 2022 and more vending style machines will appear in high-foot-traffic areas such as airports and schools, but also in the lobbies of highrise buildings. From pizza to ramen to salads and juices – all will become more accessible as these machines bring the food even closer to the consumer.
Delivery robots, including those from Serve and Kiwibot, will become the norm. Drones will take a slice of the pie as well – first in rural areas and then closer to cities. We will also see more collaboration in the "big sisters" of ghost kitchens instead of competing with each other. A few new players will emerge and one will take this industry to the next level.
Finally, the restaurant industry will still experience issues with the supply chain in 2022, but by Q3 pressure will ease considerably as goods get back on track.
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Residents of Santa Monica will be able to have their food delivered by robotaxi next year.
Boston-based advanced driverless company Motional announced Thursday it would collaborate with Uber Technologies on a program to deliver meal kits to customers using a fleet of modified autonomous-capable Hyundai cars. Motional is also planning to launch its robotaxi service in Las Vegas sometime in 2022.
When the delivery service first rolls out though, the tech won’t work with any Santa Monica restaurant within a given delivery radius. Rather, customers who want food delivered by a robotaxi will go through the Uber app, where they will find an option to select a Motional vehicle with a curated selection of meal kits.
A Motional spokesperson told dot.LA it would announce more details of the contents of the kits that are also part of the Uber partnership.
While the company called the program “an expansion into driverless delivery,” Motional confirmed to dot.LA it does not have a permit with the California Department of Motor Vehicles to operate vehicles on public roads without a driver. As a result, all of their delivery robotaxis will have a human operator inside.
In a post on the Motional website on Thursday, President and CEO Karl Iagnemma cited the rapid growth of delivery services — roughly doubling since the start of the Covid-19 spread and pandemic-instigated shutdowns in March 2020 — as the company’s reason for getting into the space. Iagnemma predicts the driverless food delivery service market to exceed $115 billion by 2030.
The robotaxi announcement is Motional’s latest announcement about its Santa Monica hub. In August, the company announced it would significantly expand its Santa Monica operations after moving to a larger space to accommodate staff and the anticipation of vehicle testing on public roads. The company said then there would be more than 100 employees at the Santa Monica location by the end of 2021.
Founded in 2020, the young company has been making significant moves apart from expanding staff and testing. Hyundai, which has its American operations in Fountain Valley, will play a significant role in testing vehicles for future autonomous or driverless testing and implementation for ride-hailing services.
It sealed the deal with the automaker last March when it was announced Hyundai’s all-electric Ioniq 5 small SUVs would be fitted with the tech company’s light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and other equipment necessary for detecting road objects.
While Motional has been testing the Ioniq 5 in other markets, the Santa Monica Uber program will be the first time it will be deployed for public use, ahead of a fully driverless ride-hailing pilot program in Las Vegas set to start in 2022.
The $40,925 Ioniq 5 also just went on sale to the U.S. public; the first vehicle was delivered to an L.A. resident on Wednesday.
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David Lin wants to create a world where you can “boil water and then buy the pasta.”
He’s the co-founder and CEO of Duffl, a UCLA-based startup that promises ultra-fast delivery via e-scooter to college students craving hot cheetos or Guayaki—or as the company’s cheeky Twitter bio proclaims: “The only thing you want to come in under 10 minutes.”
Lin is a fourth-year student studying philosophy and economics at UCLA (he took last quarter off to run Duffl). He grew up in Jiangxi, China and Lima, Peru before landing in Los Angeles.
“I chose to come to L.A. because I thought it was the perfect amalgamation of Asian, Latino and American culture, which is who I am,” he said.
Lin was taking a philosophy class on existentialism during his sophomore year when he started to ponder his role in the world:
“I would leave class and I would just kind of think about ants and one of the thoughts I had was, you know, every ant has a role in the economy. I wonder what my role is? And I realized I'm a founder.”
He applied to Y-Combinator where he met co-founder and fellow UCLA student Brian Le. Together, they launched Duffl as a 10-minute delivery service for college students. The startup went through several iterations before landing on the current model in April 2020.
When they googled “entrepreneurship,” they saw images of kids selling candy bars out off duffle bags, hence Duffl without the “e.”
The early-stage startup raised a $12 million Series A round in October and it has big plans for the future, including partnering with scooter companies. They currently use Segway Ninebot MAX scooters.
Duffl joins other emerging brands in what market researchers have dubbed the instant needs (30 minutes or less) sector of quick commerce. These retail delivery brands are vertically integrated, unlike DoorDash, Instacart, Shipt or UberEats—meaning they stock their own hyper-localized inventory at micro-fulfillment centers, also known as “dark stores.”
“If you try to predict what you will want next Tuesday at 2 p.m., you will fail, most likely,” said Lin. “And people do this every week—they go to the grocery store and they try to predict and then they throw a third of their food away,” said Lin.
The startup operates out of a Westwood storefront and on three other college campuses, including USC.
According to Coresight Research, an advisory and research firm specializing in retail and technology, total sales for quick commerce brands will hit $20-25 billion in 2021. Other instant needs players include Gopuff, Fridge No More and Gorillas. Manhattan-based startup 1520, a newer player in the market, dropped out just two weeks ago after running out of cash. And JOKR, an NYC-based startup led by Foodpanda founder Ralf Wenzel, raised $260 million in its Series B, achieving unicorn status.
Third-party delivery platform DoorDash recently announced a new 15-minute delivery service in New York City through its Chelsea DashMart location. And Turkish startup Getir (valued at $7.7 billion) launched in Chicago in November and NYC this month.
John Mercer, head of global research at Coresight, said that in the future, we will see consolidation and acquisitions as companies drop out of a crowded field:
“They're probably burning through cash from companies that are funding them. And really, it depends how long they can retain funding force to stick it out in the market.”
Unlike other players in the space, Duffl targets college students and relies on e-scooters, rather than cars or e-bikes. Duffl’s employees—called “racers”—are college students with an intimate knowledge of their campus.
Colleges offer coveted population density and built-in word-of-mouth advertising among students.
Consumers are willing to pay for speed up to a point, according to Coresight’s report, but critics at Bloomberg CityLab warn that dark stores could turn urban areas into “dark cities,” eating up valuable retail space without providing in-person interaction and community.
Gopuff, the leading player in the instant needs sector (valued at $15 billion), also got its start on a college campus when co-founders Rafael Ilishayev and Yakir Gola started delivering snacks and essentials out of their Plymouth Voyager at Drexel University in 2013.
Mercer said there’s an obvious advantage to targeting any niche as a young startup, particularly college students:
“Once they graduate, then they can take those habits, they can take that brand loyalty to their working lives where their incomes will increase, their basket size may increase, as they settle down, establish families. So you're effectively building brand appeal among young adults, which hopefully they'll take through their adult life.”
According to Lin, the company’s first 500 square- foot space earned an impressive $3 million in its first year, three times the rate of industry leader Trader Joe’s.
“Facebook didn't start on college campuses intentionally, but they did take over the world,” said Lin.
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