Automated delivery cashes in on pandemic-driven demand

In Fairfax, Virginia a fleet of 20 autonomous robots roam the streets, delivering meals and groceries as residents stay inside.

Owner of High Side Craft Beer Bar, Jinson Chan: "They can deliver up to one mile radius from here, and that actually helps me reduce the delivery that we do locally within three miles radius so that I don't have to hire extra staff just to deliver like half a mile or one mile orders."

That's Jinson Chan, owner of High Side craft beer bar in Fairfax.

He's one of a slew of business owners in the city outside Washington using Starship Robots to get food to customers as bars and restaurants remain shuttered.

But months ago, these robots weren't around.

It wasn't until the city of Fairfax shut down that officials rushed to get the robots on their streets.

The move represents how sweeping social-distancing mandates are accelerating a shift in the world of autonomous vehicles and how businesses and governments are eagerly signing up to take part.

Alphabet-owned Waymo, which has deals with companies like Walmart to deliver groceries, has experienced growing interest from investors.

It now has $3 billion in fresh capital after raising $750 million in mid-May.

A Reuters analysis found that over the past seven months investors have pumped at least $6 billion into more than two dozen companies involved in autonomous delivery of goods and food.

Among the companies getting new funding amid the increased hype is Toyota-backed Pony.ai, whose cars recently tested out food and grocery delivery services for the first time in California.

The company received a $462-million investment in February, valuing the startup at more than $3 billion and it plans to raise more money later this year.

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