Pleasanton becomes second U.S. city to use robots to deliver groceries

This week a new fleet of Starship robots arrived outside Lucky California in Pleasanton. The program, which went live on Wednesday, allows robots to deliver food to homes in about a two to three-mile radius.

The robots are from Starship Technologies, a San Francisco-based company. Starship robots deliver food on some college campuses across the country, but Pleasanton is only the second city in the U.S. to have them. The company saw success in Modesto after launching there in 2020.

Many shoppers that pass by the robots are impressed. Priya Jain even brought her children to see them. 

"The kids are enjoying it so much, so I really appreciate what the (robots) started, it’s really nice," said Jain. 

She said she can't wait to order from one. 

There are 15 robots that dock outside Lucky California on West Positas Boulevard. They line up as they wait for new orders, but on Friday there were so many orders that you didn't see more than three robots sitting there at once, and they didn't sit for very long. 

Patrick Van Lierde saw them there earlier in the week and said he had to try them out.

"It’s just like a novelty, and just curiosity. I like to try out new things," said Van Lierde. "You can actually then follow the whole route, it shows on the app."

He documented some obstacles the robot faced to get to him, including trying to get up on a sidewalk and being barked at by dogs. 

"Somebody has a basketball ring out there and it blocks the sidewalk completely, so the little guy had to negotiate that. It was just entertaining to see it do that," said Van Lierde. 

The robots are still learning the neighborhood. Right now they serve about 1,500 homes, going only 4.5 mph. But they're preparing to serve even more. 

"We expect to expand that to 5,000 and well beyond that in the near future. As an example, in Modesto we serve about 50,000 homes," said Chris Neider, director of business development at Starship Technologies.  

Here's how it works: a customer orders groceries on the Starship app, then a Lucky employee packs their items up and brings the bags outside. They scan a code to open the lid of the robot, lock it up, and it's on its way to the customer's home. The customer must also scan a code on their phone to open the robot. 

Neider said the robot also acts as a cooler, keeping food warm or hot during delivery. 

It uses a camera, sensors and radar to know where to go and when to cross the street. 

"I can imagine a world where we don’t need to go stand in line, we don’t need to go hunt through the aisle to find all the stuff that we need. We can tell an app, ‘Hey here’s all the stuff that I want. Get it to me as soon as you can,'" said Neider. 

While many shoppers who walked by were fascinated by the robots, those who rely on foot traffic – like the Girl Scout troop trying to sell cookies – weren't fans of the new technology.

"It’s a good way for girls to have communication and if we just use robots, girls won’t be able to do that. That’s the whole reason of this cookie program," said Shana. 

Shana was also worried about the workers the robots could one day replace, and how lazy people might become. 

"I’m okay with robots, they help life a lot. But there’s a limit," she said.