Uber has announced two Uber Eats autonomous delivery programs in Los Angeles. The company is teaming up with robotic sidewalk delivery startup Serve Robotics and autonomous vehicle technology company Motional for the pilot programs. The ride-hailing giant made the announcement during its annual product event on Monday.
Serve Robotics is an Uber spin-off company, so their teaming up for this pilot isn’t surprising. According to the company, Serve Robotics’ sidewalk robot will handle short-range deliveries in West Hollywood. It features a touchscreen display and a locked container carrying your food. You can unlock the container using a PIN sent to your registered mobile number.
Motional’s autonomous vehicles, meanwhile, will be responsible for making high capacity and long-distance deliveries in Santa Monica. Uber had originally announced this partnership in December last year. According to TechCrunch, Motional currently only has a permit to deploy its autonomous vehicles on the road with a safety driver on board. So it will not be a completely driverless delivery just yet. This also enables the company to make deliveries outside Motional’s current autonomous service area. The safety driver will be able to manually drive the vehicle to the location.
California state laws may prevent Uber Eats from charging a delivery fee for autonomous deliveries though. But this only applies to deliveries made via Motional vehicles. Serve Robotics is reportedly free to charge delivery fees.
Uber Eats will gradually expand its autonomous delivery programs
These autonomous delivery pilots will expectedly start small. Uber Eats is working with select merchants in Santa Monica and West Hollywood for delivering foods in robots. But if everything goes to plan, the company will be expanding the programs and teaming up with more partners in the future. Perhaps Aurora, an autonomous vehicle technology company that acquired Uber’s self-driving arm in 2020, could be a fitting partner.
As TechCrunch notes, Uber is a major investor in Aurora. It has a 26 percent stake in the company. The two firms have also collaborated in the freight space in the past. So we wouldn’t be surprised if Uber would turn to its partly-owned autonomous vehicles for food delivery having abandoned them a couple of years back.
“We’ll be able to learn from both of those pilots what customers actually want, what merchants actually want, and what makes sense for delivery as we start to integrate our platform with AV (autonomous vehicle) companies,” an Uber spokesperson told the publication. “The hope is that they’re successful and that we learn over the coming months, and then figure out how to scale.”