Chinese robotics startup PuduTech has raised just over ￥100 million ($14.2 million) in Series B funding from on-demand platform Meituan Dianping, as Covid-19 accelerates investment into ‘contactless’ food-related technologies.
Shenzhen-based PuduTech has created a range of robots for indoor use in foodservice, delivery, and other segments. Its first mass-produced product is automated waiter PuduBot, which the startup says is “widely used in restaurants, hotels, office buildings, hospitals, internet cafes and [karaoke bars], in over 200 cities and more than 20 countries around the world.”
PuduTech’s core technologies cover low-speed self-driving, robotics, and motion control. It claims to have applied for “hundreds” of patents around these areas.
‘Order anything’ app Meituan is China’s biggest meal delivery player. It had already begun to dabble in drones and robotics, automated delivery, and self-driving before the Covid-19 outbreak. But the increased demand for contactless delivery during the pandemic accelerated its efforts in these fields. Its own data revealed that, between 26 January and 8 February, over 80% of food orders it received came with a request for contactless delivery.
In February, it deployed a fleet of driverless vans to deliver groceries to users in Beijing. And it’s not just Meituan. E-commerce giant JD called on similar self-driving vehicles to deliver medical supplies and groceries in Wuhan, the city where the outbreak began. Meituan’s archrival — Alibaba-owned Ele.me — has used indoor robots and sky-borne drones to deliver food to customers.
In a statement, PuduTech said that Meituan’s investment “is conducive to combining the advantages of both parties in their respective fields, and jointly exploring [opportunities in] localized lifestyle services and robotic distribution.” The deal will see the two companies collaborate “in the field[s] of robotics and catering digitization,” the statement added.
PuduTech said it will use the Series B funding to develop new products, expand its presence overseas, and grow its sales function.
Meituan — which provides a variety of other services such as restaurant recommendations, shopper coupons, and ride-hailing — has been making agrifood investments farther upstream and downstream, too. In March, it led a ￥600 million ($85 million) round for farm-to-business produce marketplace Wangjiahuan. Last year, its VC arm Longzhu Capital participated in a $298 million raise for e-grocer Yipin Fresh.
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