It’s not every day that you are wandering around your neighborhood and get a glimpse of the future. Yet there I was minding my own business when I bumped into what appeared to be a Yelp/Eat24 “delivery robot” cruising around San Francisco’s Mission District on a Friday afternoon.
To be clear, the robot didn’t appear to be “working,” as it was flanked by two photographers intent on capturing its movements as it slowly crossed Valencia Street. This was more of a photo shoot than it was a delivery operation.
Nor was it entirely autonomous: Despite the presence of LiDAR and cameras on the robot’s body, it appeared to be steered by a woman following close behind who was holding a PlayStation controller.
But it does point to a day when robots would eventually replace humans in yet another job — in this case, that of the Yelp/Eat24 delivery carrier.
Yelp, of course, declined to comment on the clearly branded robot wandering around San Francisco, but there are a few things notable about it.
For one, the unit was apparently supplied by Marble, a robotics outfit launched out of hardware incubator Lemnos Labs last year. Marble was founded by a group of electrical engineering grads from Carnegie Mellon who worked at places like Apple, Google and Astrobotic Technology before coming together to work on a ground delivery robot.
Since we last covered Marble, which was then in the middle of fundraising, the company has secured investment from firms such as Maven Ventures, Amplify Partners, SV Angel, Promus Ventures and S2 Capital, as well as angels that include Cruise founder Kyle Vogt, Tapjoy founder Lee Linden, Sincerely found Matt Brezina and OpenAI founder Greg Brockman. Marble naturally also declined to comment.
After first putting an image of the robot on Twitter, multiple people suggested its development represented “Peak SF” — i.e. the notion that local technologists will push the limits of what’s possible, regardless of how ridiculous they might seem.
It raises questions both practical and philosophical: One the one hand, what does it mean for our society that we will soon see a “locked food delivery robot driving by the homeless?” On the other, what do we really think the “survival rate” will be for these machines?
There’s little doubt that in the coming decades cars and trucks will drive themselves and your delivery order will come via robot. And if that innovation isn’t being led by Eat24, then a company like DoorDash or Postmates will beat them to it.
The deeper subtext, to paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm, is that the people here are “so preoccupied with whether or not they could (build a food delivery robot), they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
But I don’t have answers to any of the questions above. I’m just disappointed that the Marble robot isn’t nearly as cute as the one being built by Starship Technologies.