Uber spins out robotic delivery company

3 Mar 2021

Serve's delivery robot. Image: Serve Robotics.

Serve Robotics is building and testing an autonomous delivery robot that can carry out orders over short distances.

Uber has spun out the robotics delivery arm of Postmates as its own company.

Postmates X was the robotics division of Postmates, the food delivery rival that Uber acquired last year for $2.65bn. It is now being spun out as a new independent company, called Serve Robotics, and will continue to develop its autonomous delivery robot that travels in urban areas to deliver orders.

Uber will retain a stake in Serve while the newly independent company has raised a seed round led by venture capital firm Neo, with participation from Postmates’ founders and several of Uber’s backers. No figures were disclosed.

Serve Robotics will be headed up by Ali Kashani, who previously led Postmates X.

“While self-driving cars remove the driver, robotic delivery eliminates the car itself and makes deliveries sustainable and accessible to all,” Kashani said.

“Over the next two decades, new mobility robots will enter every aspect of our lives – first moving food, then everything else.”

Serve’s robot has been tested in Los Angeles where it carries out short-distance food deliveries. It has been in testing since 2018 but has ramped up during the pandemic, according to the company, as demand for contactless delivery has grown.

The spin-out is the latest example of Uber shedding some of its business activities and the costs that come with them. Over the last year it has sold off its autonomous car research unit, offloaded its e-bike division to Lime, sold a major stake in its logistics arm, and sold its European freight forwarding business.

The cost-cutting measures are part of Uber’s efforts to narrow its focus to food delivery, which is close to turning a profit, and reviving its ride-hailing business, which has taken a battering during lockdowns.

With Serve operating independently but Uber holding a stake, the company retains access to any new developments in autonomous delivery without as much of the cost. Once Serve Robotics launches at scale, Uber Eats will likely be its first user.

“We’re excited for the potential of Serve robots to help our restaurant partners grow their business and find new convenient, safe and reliable ways to reach customers,” Stephane Ficaja, Uber Eats’ general manager for the US and Canada, added.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin