When it comes to on-demand delivery innovations, drones and self-driving cars tend to steal most of the spotlight, even though the technology for both options has a ways to go. Meanwhile, the next biggest thing happening to the delivery business might come in a much smaller package--and it will be carrying pizza.

Starship Technologies, the startup that makes cooler-sized delivery robots that roll down the sidewalk, is partnering with Domino's Pizza to deliver pies to customers in Germany and the Netherlands who live within a one mile radius of local stores.

Starship's friendly little 40-pound bots have been delivering food from restaurants in Washington, D.C., and Redwood City, Calif., since earlier this year, thanks to agreements with food delivery companies Postmates and DoorDash. The cities specifically approved the pilot programs last year, opening the door for Starship.

Some states, meanwhile, have begun passing legislation to legalize delivery bots statewide. In February, Virginia became the first state to legally approve personal delivery devices for travel on sidewalks and crosswalks. Earlier this week, Idaho became the second state to do so. A Starship representative says that Wisconsin and Florida are considering similar legislation.

Dispatch and Sidewalk are two other startups developing delivery bots, though Starship is the first to hit the ground in the United States. The company's robots can reach speeds of 10 mph, but for now they'll be restricted to about 4 mph, which means deliveries should take under 30 minutes from when the order is placed. The recipient receives a text notification when the robot arrives, which contains a link that will unlock it.

Starship's bots can climb curbs if necessary and, using a combination of GPS, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors, can avoid puddles, rocks, and other obstacles. They also steer clear of people and animals, though it's probably inevitable that a hungry hooligan will eventually try to bash one of these things. Should that happen, the bots are armed with alarms and two-way intercoms, and Starship will be able to contact authorities.

Starship's robot is a far more practical delivery creature than Fudgems, the giant brownie that used to terrorize customers in Domino's commercials by covering them with chocolate fudge. In a press release, Domino's claims the Starship partnership isn't just a gimmick, emphasizing that the bots will help the company grow. Starship says it hopes to get the cost of a delivery down to $1 for the customer. Most delivery services currently charge at least a few dollars per order.

The startup doesn't have plans yet to partner with Domino's in the U.S., though a spokesperson says the company is exploring other partnerships stateside. Starship is also looking to expand beyond food and create a same-day delivery service for goods and packages.

Founded in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, Starship has headquarters in Estonia and the United Kingdom. The company closed a $17.2 million Series A round led by Daimler in January.

Starship expects its first robot-delivered Domino's pizzas to arrive by the end of spring.

Published on: Mar 29, 2017