Delivery Robots and Virtual Kitchen Businesses Expand During Pandemic

The battle in California regarding employee vs. independent contractor status is heating up, but that’s not the only noteworthy news this week. Senior RSG contributor John Ince breaks down the latest below.

Uber, Lyft, others pour $70 million more for Yes on 22 ballot campaign [SFChronicle]

Sum and Substance: Gig companies have poured $70 million more into their ballot campaign to keep drivers and couriers as independent contractors — bringing the total funds for Yes on 22 to a breathtaking $181 million, and putting it on track as one of the biggest-ticket California initiatives ever.

“Voters better strap in — they’re in for a barrage of ads and sizzle from the pro-22 side,” said David McCuan, a professor of political science at Sonoma State University who studies California ballot measures. “This is an incredible amount of money and there’s a long ways to go. We’re still 60 days out from the election.”

My Take:  This is a breathtaking amount of money.  It just underlines how important this ballot initiative is to these companies.  But what if Prop 22 fails?  That’s the question these companies are facing.

‘Uber for lawn care’: National app launches in Madison [WisconsinStateJournal]

Sum and Substance:  A website and app, GreenPal, launched in Madison on Aug. 21, making it easier for homeowners to connect with lawn care professionals in the area.

“We have been described as ‘Uber for lawn care’,” GreenPal co-founder Gene Caballero said. “It’s the easiest way for homeowners to find, schedule and pay their lawn guy.”

The website ( and app are free to use for homeowners. When the homeowner enters their address and requested date of service, it alerts lawn care professionals in the area and they bid on the service. The homeowner chooses which bid they will accept. Once the service is complete, the lawn care professional takes a time-stamped photo of the lawn and it is sent to the homeowner. The homeowner then makes a payment through GreenPal.

My Take:  I see this as a convenience, but I wonder how the company prevents contractors from cutting them out once the service is started. It would seem pretty easy to do – just establish yourself as the regular lawn maintenance guy and say goodbye to GreenPal.

Yandex spins out self-driving car unit from its Uber JV, invests $150M into new company [Techcrunch]

Sum and Substance: Self-driving cars are still many years away from becoming a ubiquitous reality, but today, one of the bigger efforts to build and develop them is taking a significant step out as part of its strategy to be at the forefront for when they do. Yandex — the publicly traded Russian tech giant that started as a search engine but has expanded into a number of other, related areas (similar to U.S. counterpart Google) — today announced that it is spinning out its self-driving car unit from MLU BV — a ride-hailing and food delivery joint venture it operates in partnership with Uber.

My Take:  This is one of those areas of the company that we tend to forget about. I didn’t even know Uber owned 19% of Yandex, at a valuation in the billions.  All these little pieces of various partnerships might even justify Uber’s valuation whatever the market says it is now.

SkyDrive and Uber Air could have flying cars in the skies by 2023 [Thinknum]

Sum and Substance:  Flying cars have become synonymous with a just-around-the-corner future that never quite arrives, despite companies promising they’ll deliver. However, that future is closer than ever, now that a Japanese company, SkyDrive, announced that it had completed a test flight of its electrical vertical take-off and landing vehicle (eVTOL), the first public manned flight of its kind.

SkyDrive isn’t the only company with real prototypes in development. Companies like Uber, Hyundai, Boeing, and Airbus have poured resources into VTOLs for the past few years, but few physical models have seen the light of day.

My Take:  Count me a skeptic. I don’t see the regulatory environment supporting this technology coming around for quite some time – unless of course, they could be persuaded by money…

Virtual Kitchen, founded by ex-Uber execs to help restaurants with delivery, raises $20 million [CNBC]

Sum and Substance:  Nearly seven months into the coronavirus pandemic, Uber has largely turned into a food delivery company. Former Uber employees, meanwhile, are finding another way to benefit from the dramatic change in the restaurant industry.

Virtual Kitchen, a start-up founded by two ex-Uber executives, has just raised $20 million of fresh capital, according to a filing on Tuesday with the SEC. The company provides technology to set up commercial kitchens designed for delivery, allowing restaurants to get food to customers without the expense and hassle of running a dining room or storefront — a model that’s especially attractive in the age of coronavirus lockdowns.

My Take:  This is a growth sector, now with the pandemic.  How much of a growth sector it will be remains to be seen.  Sooner or later the pandemic will end. I wouldn’t attempt to build a business of something that will be gone in a year or so.

Uber pledges to shift to ‘100 percent’ electric vehicles by 2030  [TheVerge]

Sum and Substance: Uber announced Tuesday that “100 percent” of rides will take place in electric vehicles by 2030 in the US, Canada, and Europe, and by 2040 for the rest of the world. But rather than pay drivers directly to trade their gas-burning vehicles for electric ones, the company will impose an extra fee on trips completed in an electric vehicle to incentivize drivers to make the switch.

My Take:  So Uber makes the case that drivers are independent contractors in California, but the extra fee is going to make them all switch.  What if a driver doesn’t want to switch?  Somehow, these projections 10 years out don’t seem to carry a lot of weight.

Read more about Uber’s announcement regarding zero emissions here.

Tortoise Unveils its Not-Autonomous Grocery Delivery Robot  (TheSpoon)

Sum and Substance:  Up to now, San Francisco-based Tortoise has mostly been known for its technology that helps manage micro-mobility fleets like electric scooters and bikes. But earlier this week the company took to Twitter to unveil its new line of business: delivery robots.

Editor’s Note:  This is an interesting story that deserves a click just to see how cute (and substantial) the Tortoise robot is. This robot can deliver groceries and larger parcels, but the most interesting thing about the robot is that it’s not entirely autonomous. Yes, there’s a person controlling that robot manually.

This means not only is the robot a little safer, but companies are starting to catch on that you can’t fully eliminate people when it comes to technology. Definitely check out the article and let us know what you think about it below!

Readers, what do you think about this week’s roundup?

-John @ RSG