Chipotle is the latest company to get behind robot cars. Here’s why

02 chipotle debunks 3 mythis about robotic delivery

Nuro is the autonomous automobile company that huge manufacturers love. With a deal with supply, Nuro’s cute, driverless automobile that’s optimized to maintain items has attracted partnerships with Walmart, Kroger, and CVS, together with over $1 billion in funding since 2017.

This week, Chipotle joined the listing of Nuro’s backers, investing an undisclosed quantity in the company’s latest spherical of funding.

Nuro has been a golden baby of the startup world since 2017. Like many different AV startups, it’s been testing its applied sciences tentatively over a number of years to polish them for wider launch. The technique appears to be paying off for Nuro. Its Nuro R2 automobile has develop into the first autonomous automotive accepted to function and not using a driver on roads throughout three totally different states (California, Arizona, and Texas).

However why did a burrito company put money into a robotic supply company? The brief, apparent reply is to ship burritos. However when you discuss to Curt Garner, chief know-how officer at Chipotle, about the funding, it’s clear that there’s an extended, extra nuanced reply.


Chipotle doesn’t simply need to be first in line in the world of autonomous supply. It needs to form what that have will seem like from the floor up—an expertise that is doubtless to be totally different than most of us most likely imagined.

[Photo: courtesy Chipotle]

Fantasy 1: The large alternative is in eliminating drivers

Chipotle: The large alternative is redesigning automobiles.

Chipotle already companions with Uber Eats, Postmates, and Door Sprint to ship meals. So the pure alternative in investing in Nuro appears apparent: It’s a chance to eradicate human drivers that value cash.

Nevertheless, Garner frames Chipotle’s transfer as much less about effectivity and extra about expertise. He factors out that if you order supply from an Uber Eats, your meals is being delivered in somebody’s automotive. Maybe your meals and drinks are positioned on the flooring, or in the trunk. Possibly the A/C is on, or possibly it’s the heater. Both approach, that’s not optimum. The company has invested in Nuro as a result of it needs to redesign a automotive, constructed to ship meals, from the floor up. And as a full improvement accomplice, moderately than only a buyer, Chipotle believes they’ll do this collectively.

“Most autonomous automobiles have been designed to give you the chance to accommodate a driver. And so, it’s an current automobile that’s been retrofitted with autonomous tech,” says Garner. “The Nuro design is from the floor up an AV with no house for a driver.”

With no house for the driver, that enables Chipotle to optimize the storage inside. That doesn’t simply imply a Chipotle-Nuro automobile would possibly match extra burritos per sq. foot than a Toyota Camry. It implies that they’ll construct a automobile with sizzling, chilly, and drink storage, particular to menu gadgets together with burritos, burrito bowls, and sides of guacamole and salsa.


“While you begin to take into consideration a bespoke automobile designed particularly for the wants of what we’re attempting to do, there are some actually fascinating potentialities, and the chance to shock you,” says Garner.

You may think about slightly about how the expertise would possibly work. A Nuro automobile pulls up to your house. It parallel parks at the curb. You obtain a notification that it’s ready. Then, as you strategy the automobile, you give a thumbs-up, and it opens two locker-like hatches. One is like slightly oven, revealing your sizzling burrito. The opposite is like slightly fridge, holding your chilly soda.

Nevertheless, one attractive half about an autonomous, Chipotle supply automobile is that it wouldn’t all the time be making deliveries. Garner factors out that, in the off-hours, a Nuro automobile might simply be dispatched to deal with different duties, corresponding to driving to a provide home to restock a Chipotle retailer’s provide of avocados.

[Photo: courtesy Chipotle]

Fantasy 2: Autonomous supply will take over all over the place

Chipotle: Robots will solely be in some communities.

There are greater than 2,750 Chipotles round the U.S. However that doesn’t imply they’ll all get autonomous supply choices, even when Nuro know-how is mature.

“These automobiles aren’t freeway automobiles. When you concentrate on facet streets and causeways which are 25- to 35-miles-per-hour velocity limits, that’s the place Nuro shines,” says Garner. “That may very well be denser city environments, or suburban.”

Garner goes as far as to supply that Nuro will not be a “final mile” resolution as some individuals take into consideration supply companies; it would ship inside a good shorter supply vary in some circumstances. An enormous wrench in Chipotle’s plans, even with Nuro, is that delivering meals is a tougher proposition than delivering items, with a tighter window to get proper.

“For an Amazon Prime buyer, you’re making a purchase order determination with the concept that what you’re shopping for may be out there the subsequent day. The grocery firms are one thing related: there’s typically a morning, afternoon, or night window for supply,” says Garner. “Restaurant firms—and Chipotle specifically—we’re 15- to 30-minute home windows. We have now to determine how to get the order, construct it from scratch, and get it to the buyer in half-hour or much less.”

That fast turnaround merely can’t work all over the place. And a few Chipotle shops simply received’t give you the chance to accommodate these methods, for regulatory causes involving AVs, and even sensible shortcomings with driverless automobiles. I take into consideration my native Chipotle, which is crammed into the busiest nook of a mall parking zone. A human driver has problem navigating this house. I can’t think about an autonomous automobile elbowing its approach right into a parking zone the place even I want not to drive.

Garner says the company has already skilled points the place some shops can’t undertake all Chipotle companies, corresponding to with the “Chipotlane” drive-throughs that it’s including to all shops it may.

“We have now some eating places which are very best candidates for Chipotlanes . . . [but] there are some eating places based mostly in areas that may’t have that amenity,” says Garner. “It will likely be the similar factor with autonomous automobiles. If we have now a spot they make sense, they usually can serve that market, nice. If we have now a spot we are able to’t service, that’s nice as effectively. We’ll determine different methods to serve [customers].”


[Photo: courtesy Chipotle]

Fantasy 3: Autonomous supply is a decade away

Chipotle: Assume extra like 5 years.

Tesla has had to reduce its autonomous driving claims this 12 months. And from that perspective, it’s simple to suppose that AVs aren’t almost as shut as some say. So I requested Garner outright, are AVs a 5-year or a 10-year downside?

“I actually really feel lots of know-how is going to be matured in 5 years,” he says. “There are positively questions that want to be answered when it comes to the regulatory atmosphere . . . however I don’t suppose [five years] is far-fetched in any respect.”

Garner teased that it’s doubtless you’ll see Chipotle testing Nuro deliveries a lot earlier than that, nonetheless—related to what we’ve seen piloted with Nuro and Walmart. However past the know-how of the automobiles themselves, it’s necessary to notice that Chipotle, like many different chain eating places, already has the order infrastructure to assist an AV supply service.

Chipotle has what it calls a “digital make line,” which siphons orders from a number of digital sources and presents them to the line cook dinner as simply one other order. Starbucks has developed a lot the similar factor with a queue system that robotically creates labels for drinks. These inner digital platforms permit staff to handle Uber Eats or first-party app orders with out checking a number of screens or juggling a number of instructions.

Mainly, as we’ve seen supply companies develop into common, eating places have had to adapt to assist them. So the transfer to ship via autonomous automobiles is in some methods simpler than the preliminary transfer towards supply has been.

“Our imaginative and prescient continues to be to go the place our prospects are and supply entry in any approach we are able to,” says Garner. “We’ve developed the technological infrastructure to work throughout many alternative companions. We see it as an amenity as opposed to a problem.”