Coco bites into Texas. Photo courtesy of Coco
By Chantal Rice
Austin’s decades-long transformation into a tech mecca is officially complete.
Sure, we’ve got more than our fair share of tech behemoths — Dell, Tesla, Oracle, WP Engine, Indeed, Google, and Bumble — and a healthy smattering of smaller tech enterprises that further advance the Capital City as the next Silicon Valley.
But the true indicator that a city has become a tech hub is found in its proclivity to not rage against the machine. And that’s precisely what drew the city’s newest robots to Austin.
Coco, the Los Angeles-based business that offers a remotely piloted delivery service, has hit the streets of Austin with its food-delivery bots as part of its expansion to targeted markets. Fueled by a recent funding round that garnered the company $56 million, Coco’s expansion plans also include rolling out bots in the Houston, Dallas, and Miami markets soon.
“When evaluating markets for expansion, Austin stood out to the team as a perfect match,” says Zach Rash, co-founder and CEO of Coco, via a release. “Austin’s entrepreneurial spirit, top-notch food scene, and commitment to supporting small businesses makes it an ideal fit for Coco.”
Here’s how it works: Customers place a restaurant order like usual, then a Coco bot — operated by a “trained pilot” — drives to the restaurant to pick it up. The restaurant staff loads the bot as soon as the food is ready, and Coco arrives at the customer’s door within 15 minutes. Each bot is locked until it reaches the customer, so no one can tamper with your pizza or egg rolls.
The company claims that compared with traditional food-delivery methods, its bots decrease the time it takes food to reach the customer by 30 percent, and that the service has an on-time delivery rate of 97 percent.
Of course, Coco bots won’t be zipping up I-35 for a long-haul delivery; they’re meant to work at shorter distances and on mostly pedestrian paths. As the company’s website notes, “A surprisingly large portion of deliveries are done within less than 2 miles. We believe there is no reason to have a 3,000-pound car deliver a burrito over short distances.”
Coco claims to have transformed the food- and beverage-delivery landscape in its home market of LA, where, as of 2021, the company says it was successfully operating across all major Los Angeles neighborhoods.
The innovative quality of the company certainly makes it a good fit for Austin, where it’s getting plenty of praise from restaurant partners and city officials.
“We’re excited that Coco is launching their first-ever expansion outside of California and bringing their innovative technology to Austin,” says Roland Peña, senior vice president of global tech and innovation for the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “Coco was founded on the same entrepreneurial spirit that Austin has been embracing for decades. Their dedication to a streamlined service that simultaneously reduces costs, increases consistency, and helps our businesses connect with customers in a sustainable way fits right into the Austin region’s identity of ingenuity, customer success, and business profitability.”
Locally, Coco has rolled out with 10 Austin partners — mostly merchants that service the South Lamar Boulevard, South Congress Avenue, South Austin, downtown, North Austin, North Loop, and Domain neighborhoods — and aims to continue onboarding many more in the coming weeks “to accommodate the rapid influx of merchant interest.”
Initial Austin merchant partners include Arpeggio Grill, Bamboo Bistro, Clay Pit, DeSano Pizzeria, Tuk Tuk Thai, and Aviator Pizza.
“We’re excited about the new partnership with Coco this month. The Coco team has been on the ground getting everything ready to kick it off. Their people have been just fantastic,” says Jimmy FitzGerald, owner of DeSano Pizzeria Napoletana, which has two Austin locations, one on Burnet Road and one downtown on Lavaca Street. “Our DeSano teams here in Austin are very excited about this new groundbreaking delivery platform at both locations. It’s helping us look at delivery in a whole new way.”
Coco isn’t the first company to release an army of bots upon Austin. In May 2021, Piaggio Fast Forward, the Boston-based company founded by the Italian creator of the Vespa scooter, launched its Gita following and carrying robots in Austin. And just a month later, Michigan-based Refraction AI rolled out its semi-autonomous food-delivery bots in South Austin.
It’s Coco’s trained pilots and commitment to “perfecting the last-mile delivery experience” that helps set it apart from competitors, according to the company and its partners.
“We are very happy to be partnering with Coco for delivery,” says Aviator Pizza’s John McElroy, who has five locations in the Austin metro area. “We love to support innovative companies that are out there making changes in the world. We feel remotely piloted delivery is the bridge to the day we have reliable and safe autonomous delivery vehicles. Coco is far ahead of the game!”
Austin businesses interested in partnering with Coco can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Everyone else can check out the bots by ordering from one of Coco’s Austin merchant partners.