How autonomous delivery startups are navigating policy, partnerships and post-pandemic operations

We kicked off this year’s TC Sessions: Mobility with a talk featuring three leading players in the field of autonomous delivery. Gatik co-founder and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat, Nuro head of operations Amy Jones Satrom, and Starship Technologies co-founder and CTO Ahti Heinla joined us to discuss their companies’ unique approaches to the category.

The trio discussed government regulation on autonomous driving, partnerships with big corporations like Walmart and Domino’s, and the ongoing impact the pandemic has had on interest in the space.

The pandemic effect

Delivery is one of the countless categories that have been profoundly impacted by COVID-19. Interest in autonomous delivery has compounded, but will this be a permanent sea change? Or will things regress some when life returns to normal?

Kumavat: Even before the pandemic hit, this whole e-commerce trend was already on the rise. No one wants their deliveries to be done after a week or two weeks. Everyone is expecting them to be done on the same day, as well as curbside pickup options. There was already a rise in the expectations of e-commerce and on-demand deliveries even before the pandemic hit. Post-March 2020, what we have seen is a huge increase in that trajectory. (Timestamp: 1:55)

Jones Satrom: When you think about the number of trips the consumer used to take just for shopping, that’s roughly 40% of the trips they would take. They now have habits around that kind of stuff. It’s a timesaver for the consumer. We do see those trends continuing and we do see folks sustaining the online ordering piece and wanting to be able to get things when they want them. (Timestamp: 8:39)