Robodelivery Startup Starship Technologies Raises $90 Million to Grow Beyond Pizza

The Estonia-based company has had a good start in the US, but is now looking to expand its European operations.

Photo of a Starship food delivery robot
Photo by JIP via CC BY-SA 4.0

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It looks like people are fine with autonomous vehicles so long as they come bearing pizza.

Starship Technologies, an Estonian startup founded by two of the brains behind Skype, has slowly but surely been rolling out its fleet of sidewalk-bound robots and it’s not only turning a profit, it just got a fresh capital injection of $90 million. 

Slow But Steady

Starship’s robots kind of look like a cross between Eve from Wall-E and a turtle. The robots trundle along sidewalks via autonomous-driving technology, equipped with 360-degree cameras and a siren in case any ne’er-do-wells try to bust them open to get the goodies inside. Each robot has a remote human operator somewhere, looking at the world through the robot’s cameras, just in case they get into trouble.

According to Starship, its robots, which operate at select locations in the US, UK, Finland, and Estonia, have traversed 11 million miles to make 6 million deliveries since the company’s founding a decade ago. Its US expansion has been primarily focused on college campuses, but in an interview with TechCrunch CEO Ahti Heinla (who recently returned to the post, quietly replacing US-based CEO Alastair Westgarth) made it sound like Europe will be where the company focuses next:

  • “We are not focusing exclusively on the US at the moment,” Heinla told TechCrunch. Hungry US college students craving pizza can likely get you only so far.
  • Heinla attributed some of the company’s success to a greater cultural acceptance of its robots than, say, autonomous vehicles. “In contrast with self-driving cars, I think our robots always have been accepted in communities,”  he told TechCrunch, adding: “People really love them. You know, they try to feed bananas to them.”

Not Everyone Loves a Robot: That’s not to say Starship’s robots are universally adored. Last November, UK retail publication The Grocer reported that a Starship robot got into something of an altercation with a pedestrian, ramming into him. Starship told The Grocer it would be giving the employee who was in charge of piloting the robot “additional training.”