Grubhub turns to Yandex for robotic food delivery on campus

Grubhub is turning to Russia’s leading internet company to field a fleet of robots to make sure hungry college students can get the munchies quickly regardless of the weather.

Yandex NV’s self-driving unit will deploy suitcase-sized robots that have been in use in Russia since last year as part of Grubhub’s campus delivery program, which covers over 250 colleges around the U.S., the Moscow-based company said in a statement.

The robots, which will be rolled out at some campuses during the fall semester, mark Grubhub’s first attempt to use autonomous vehicles as the restaurant business turns to drones as a novel way to eventually cut delivery times and, eventually, costs. Nuro, which operates a fleet of self-driving pods, started delivering pies for Domino’s Pizza Inc. in Houston this April, while California-based Kiwibot introduced a model this year that can bring food indoors.

Grubhub has lost more than 30 percentage points in food-delivery market share in the U.S. since 2018, according to Bloomberg Second Measure. Robots present an opportunity to access areas that are car-free or have strict visitor policies, allowing it to better compete with industry leader DoorDash Inc. in key markets as students return to campus.

Food-Delivery Wars
For Yandex, the deal allows it to cash in on technology it’s developing for Russia’s biggest ride-hailing service before autonomous taxis become mainstream.

“Using the same technology for delivery bots as self-driving cars allows for early monetization,” Artem Fokin, head of business development for Yandex Self-Driving Group, said. “We are in a fairly unique position in the market.”

Yandex’s Rover, which resembles robots used by Inc. and Starship Technologies Inc., currently delivers food from restaurants and e-grocery orders in some Moscow neighborhoods and two Russian university towns.

About 100 robots make several hundred deliveries a day and have proved themselves effective in Russia’s notoriously bad weather, Fokin said. They have also been tested in a pilot program in Ann Arbor, Mich., home of the University of Michigan.

The deal with Grubhub, which was acquired by Just Eat NV, marks Yandex’s first attempt to commercialize its self-driving technology outside of Russia. Yandex vehicles have driven more than 6 million miles in autonomous mode on public roads in Russia, Israel and the U.S., according to the company.

The announcement comes after Yandex competitor Samokat, which runs Russia’s biggest instant-grocery-delivery service by orders, said it will open in New York in August.

Yandex Self-Driving Group was spun off from a joint venture between its parent company and Uber Technologies Inc. in 2020, with the firms owning 73 percent and 19 percent stakes, respectively. The remainder is owned by the unit’s management.

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