Bolt and Starship take next step towards autonomous food and grocery delivery

Starship’s autonomous delivery bots are already a familiar sight in the streets of Tallinn. A deal with Bolt is set to make them ubiquitous.

It’s been a good month so far for Bolt, the Estonian unicorn best known for its ride-hailing and food delivery services. 

On June 1, the firm announced that it had secured 126 million euros — in the shape of a leasing framework agreement with Swedbank and Luminor — to expand its Bolt Drive car-sharing service in the Baltics. 

Then, on June 21, it concluded a new partnership with Starship Technologies, another Estonian start-up and a world leader in autonomous delivery vehicles. The two companies say that together, they will “transform the way food and grocery deliveries are made, bringing customers a new level of convenience and sustainability right to their door”. 

Founded in 2013 and previously known as Taxify, Bolt has around 100 million customers in 45 countries across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. 

The firm has so far raised more than two billion US dollars in funding and currently has a valuation of 8.4 billion US dollars. 

Bolt Drive 

Bolt Drive is a car-sharing service that lets riders rent a car immediately through the Bolt app. Since its launch in Estonia in 2021, the service has been rolled out to other European cities, including Riga and Jurmala in Latvia, Vilnius in Lithuania, and the German capital Berlin.  

With the funding from Swedbank and Luminor, Bolt says it will be able to bring its on-demand car rental to more cities across the Baltics. 

The two banks are confident the investment will add to their sustainability and business goals in helping make cities more people-centric. 

According to Eero Treumann, head of corporate banking at Swedbank, “We are used to seeing Bolt Drive cars on the streets of Tallinn, but it’s still a novel business model on a wider scale. In the future, it can be a part of the solution to save cities from car dependency.” 

Bolt says that its Drive cars are brand new or, at most, two years old. “Comparing this to the average age of a personal vehicle in Estonia (16.7 years) and Europe (11.8 years), it’s clear that passive safety (passenger protection), as well as active safety measures (ABS braking or accident warning systems), are significantly better in newer vehicles,” says the firm. 

Drivers are carefully vetted and the Bolt Drive service is strictly reserved for seasoned drivers with a minimum of one to two year’s driving experience depending on the country and car model. Reckless drivers are banned from Bolt Drive, either temporarily or permanently, to ensure vehicles aren’t driven illegally. 

Bolt and Starship 

The partnership between Bolt and Starship Technologies is driven by what the two companies call “shared objectives and a vision to transform cities and delivery services”. 

Starship Technologies recently became the first autonomous delivery company to complete five million commercial deliveries worldwide, while Bolt offers food and grocery delivery in almost 100 cities across Europe and Africa alongside its core ride-hailing service, now available in more than 500 cities worldwide. 

“Both Bolt and Starship have created innovative products which have revolutionised the way people move around and buy and receive goods in cities,” says Bolt’s president, Jevgeni Kabanov. 

Founded in Estonia in 2014 by ex-Skype entrepreneurs Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, Starship’s six-wheeled delivery robots have been a common sight on the streets of Tallinn and US university campuses for some time.  

Now headquartered in San Francisco, the start-up has so far raised almost 200 million US dollars in funding, most recently a Series B round worth 42 million US dollars in February 2022. Linking up with Bolt will allow far faster expansion. 

“We think the synergy with Bolt’s overall portfolio of services will not only help Starship expand to new markets but also provide some fun, fully electric, future-proofed delivery options to the markets Bolt serves,” says Heinla. 

Starship delivery robots will begin delivering with Bolt Food in Tallinn as part of a pilot programme, working in tandem with courier partners. 

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