In the wake of supply chain disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and a host of other factors, companies have learned that technology and logistics are now essential to running a business. Larger companies like Amazon and Walmart have set a new precedent, establishing their own technology and logistics arms to keep up with the rapidly changing world of commerce.
Add DoorDash (NYSE: DASH) to that group. The food delivery platform announced on Thursday a project that it’s kept behind closed doors since 2018 –– DoorDash Labs. For more than three years now, DoorDash has secretly been tinkering with robots and automation, and the company is now formally unveiling its robotics and automation arm.
Over the past few years, DoorDash has partnered with companies like Starship Technologies, Marble Robot and Cruise Automation and acquired companies like Chowbotics to test out warehouse automation solutions and drone technology. The company believes that it has identified “a gap in existing automation applications” that can be solved by introducing the technology developed by DoorDash Labs into the delivery process.
As for what that technology actually is or does, the company is keeping that information under wraps for the time being, with plans to reveal more about products and deployment in the coming months.
“As a company, DoorDash has years of data and experience operating a logistics network across geographies and varying commerce use cases, so we have a unique lens into the delivery use case for automation and the vast opportunity that lies ahead,” Harrison Shih, director and head of product for DoorDash Labs, told Modern Shipper in an email. “Our end goal is to develop and implement robotics solutions that complement the Dasher community, increase efficiency in our overall network and result in a more efficient, improved experience for all audiences we serve.”
DoorDash also announced that it would be bringing on Ashu Rege, who served as senior vice president of software engineering for autonomous vehicle maker Zoox, as vice president of autonomy.
In a news release, DoorDash explained that Labs will pursue a sort of microfulfillment system that the company calls a “hub-to-hub model.” In areas like shopping malls that have high merchant density, DoorDash would aggregate orders and have a robot deliver them to a singular consumer hub. The idea is to reduce the distance between pickup and dropoff locations.
“In automating the middle mile, we could reduce the individual effort for each delivery, which we anticipate could enable Dashers to fulfill more orders in the same time period and potentially earn more, more quickly,” the company said.
DoorDash also said that it’s testing out “specific integration points” within its network and that its dispatch system was built to accommodate robotic integrations.
And while some have fears that robots and automation could have a negative impact on gig workers, DoorDash emphasizes that its technology is designed to work in tandem with humans.
“At DoorDash, we see automation as a priority and a means to develop the right platform solution,” the company said. “Long term, we are thinking about how we can continue to satisfy consumer demand with an adequate supply of Dashers for deliveries across the globe. Our team at DoorDash Labs believes in using these technologies to augment human networks, not replace them.
“We’re proud of the technology we have developed to date and are committed to closely collaborating with the industry, governments and our merchants to ensure what we bring to market is safe and productive.”