DoorDash has been on an acquisition tear of late, with Scotty Labs as its latest target. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but this comes after DoorDash acquired Caviar in a deal worth $410 million.
Scotty Labs, a tele-operations company that is working on technology to enable people to remotely control self-driving cars, raised a $6 million seed round from Gradient Ventures, with participation from Horizon Ventures and Hemi Ventures, last March. The startup had previously worked with Voyage for its self-driving cars in retirement communities.
“Our core belief at Scotty has always been that Autonomy + Remote Assistance is the future,” Scotty CEO Tobenna Arodiogbu wrote on Medium. “We have intentionally always considered ourselves to be the anti-hype company and focused intensely on developing core infrastructure and algorithms to ensure the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles.”
Meanwhile, DoorDash quietly brought on the two co-founders from Lvl5, another company that had built tech to create high-resolution maps for autonomous driving using crowdsourced imagery and computer vision to merge and process the images. In April, Lvl5 announced it was shutting down after the acquisition.
Details of how Scotty Labs and Lvl5 will fit into DoorDash’s business are nonexistent, but you could imagine DoorDash using Scotty’s technologies to remotely control delivery robots or other types of autonomous vehicles.
“We’ll share more updates in the near future but for now, we’re really excited to be part of the amazing DoorDash family and looking forward to building something magical together,” Scotty Labs co-founder Tobenna Arodiogbu wrote on Medium.
From what we understand, the Lvl5 deal was more of an acqui-hire and did not include any of the maps that were built using the company’s technology. Instead, startup Mapillary obtained that trove of hundreds of millions of images.
DoorDash would not comment on what the new hires are working on, but through its robot pilots and partnership with GM, the startup has made no secret of its interest in exploring autonomous technology, specifically looking at how it can improve the cost and efficiency of deliveries, and it would make sense that it would also want to have in-house expertise to own and manage those projects.
DoorDash has experimented with delivery robots before. In 2017, DoorDash partnered with both Starship Technologies and Marble to test food delivery via robot. More recently, DoorDash announced a partnership with GM’s Cruise to test self-driving food delivery cars. DoorDash is also beefing up its in-house team of autonomous and navigation specialists.
This investment in autonomous tech through its acquisition of Scotty Labs and acqui-hire of the team from Lvl5 comes at a time when DoorDash says it is revamping its policies around driver wages.
The enthusiasm and potential of autonomous tech had led to startups creating literally dozens of interesting products that focus on different aspects of this field. But it will take a village to get this tech off the ground, which means that consolidation is inevitable.
DoorDash — operating on the principle of economies of scale — has been pretty aggressive in positioning itself as one of those consolidators. We have heard it tried to merge with Postmates. It bought Caviar this summer. And it has raised an absolute ton of money. In May, DoorDash raised a $400 million round, valuing it at $12.6 billion. Meanwhile, DoorDash’s main competitor, Postmates, is gearing up to go public this quarter. Just this month, the company received the first permit to deploy autonomous delivery bots in San Francisco.
As technology becomes a key way for the crowded arena of delivery startups to differentiate themselves, investing in its own autonomous tech R&D — by way of picking up some of these disparate startups that may have struggled to survive on their own — is one way for DoorDash to build out that tech cred.