Robotics and food have grown much closer in the past decade. Whether it’s a robotic arm that flips burger patties in a fast-food restaurant or a kiosk that whips up entire meals from scratch, companies are getting better at making robots that prepare food. That is leading to several profitable investments and acquisitions within the space.
The latest example is Chowbotics, a Bay Area startup that invented a salad-making robot. It was recently acquired by DoorDash for an undisclosed sum, according to TechCrunch and The Wall Street Journal.
It’s unclear exactly how the meal delivery company plans on integrating Chowbotics into its operations. However, the startup is very promising and is perfect for the post-pandemic world where consumers will look for ways to reduce human contact around their food.
Chowbotics is in the midst of an impressive run since being founded in 2014. The startup’s flagship offering is Sally, a robot that looks like a vending machine. Customers interact with its giant touchscreen to build custom salads. From there, the robot dispenses fresh ingredients from its refrigerated interior and serves up a fresh bowl.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chowbotics added a touchless feature to the robot, allowing customers to order a salad remotely from their smartphone.
To date, Chowbotics has raised $21 million. Although it isn’t clear how much DoorDash paid for the acquisition, it’s surely higher than that figure.
In a press release, the startup’s CEO, Rick Wilmer, said, “Making fresh food more accessible and convenient has always been core to our mission. As part of DoorDash, the mission is now turbocharged… DoorDash is uniquely positioned to further accelerate Chowbotics’ market presence and new product development.”
He adds, “Joining the DoorDash team unlocks new possibilities for Chowbotics and the technology that this team has built over the past seven years.”
How Will it Work?
As noted, it is unclear exactly how DoorDash plans to utilize its latest acquisition. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, food delivery companies have been an essential resource for consumers.
Once the pandemic ends and people are able to resume their “normal” lives, these services will need to find innovative ways to retain customers. Increasing access to fresh, healthy foods is one way to do so.
In a statement given to TechCrunch, DoorDash noted that its Chowbotics acquisition will “improve consumer access to fresh and safe meals, and enhance our robust merchant offerings and logistics platform.”
This isn’t the first robotics company that DoorDash has partnered with over the years. However, previous firms have mostly focused on robotic food delivery rather than preparation.
One potential application for Chowbotics’ salad-making robot is in DoorDash’s ghost kitchens. In essence, these are restaurants that operate with a delivery-only model. Customers can order food either by phone or through an app and have it delivered, but can’t eat-in or pick it up. Often, the storefront is non-existent. Other times, the ghost kitchen is actually operating inside an existing chain restaurant, like an Outback Steakhouse or Chili’s.
It’s easy to see how a salad-making robot could come into play here. The technology would make it easier for ghost kitchen staff to churn out healthy food for delivery.
In the days to come, it will be interesting to see how DoorDash uses the technology of its latest acquisition. The salad-making robot could be a key part of its strategy in the post-pandemic world.