Uber Eats begins autonomous deliveries in Calif.

A worker carries food to an autonomous delivery car.

Written by James Shea

Uber Eats and autonomous vehicle company Motional have begun driverless deliveries in Santa Monica, Calif.

The effort is being done in conjunction with robotics company Serve Robotics, which Uber acquired with the purchase of Postmates and spun off in 2021.  The partnership between Uber and Motional was announced in December. At the time, Uber said it planned to begin autonomous deliveries sometime in 2022.

“At Uber, we’re always innovating on ways we can move people and goods more safely, efficiently, and affordably,” said Noah Zych, global gm of Uber’s Autonomous Mobility and Delivery business. “Integrating autonomous, electric delivery options onto our platform from Motional and Serve Robotics is just the beginning of how we will harness this promising technology to help make it easier for more people throughout the world to go anywhere and get anything.”

Like everything in autonomous delivery these days, the project is a test. Companies are still trying to understand how comfortable consumers are with autonomous delivery and whether people can understand how to interact with the vehicle when it arrives. According to reports, a customer who makes a purchase from Uber Eats in the area where the tests are taking place will get a message that says: “Autonomous vehicles may deliver your order.” At that point, customers can decide if they want the food delivered by an autonomous vehicle. If customers approve the autonomous vehicle, they are given a passcode that can be used to access the vehicle when it arrives.

“Autonomous delivery signifies the next phase of Motional’s commercial roadmap,” Motional COO Abe Ghabra said. “This service will provide the learnings and experience needed to make Motional the trusted AV provider for on-demand delivery networks. We’re proud to partner with Uber on this important milestone and begin introducing Uber Eats customers to autonomous technology.”

Motional is a joint venture between Hyundai Motor Company and auto parts maker Aptiv. The vehicles used in the service have been adapted to enable autonomous deliveries. While Motional has extensive experience moving passengers, this is the company’s first time transporting commercial goods. To prepare, the company spent months studying every touchpoint between the restaurant and end-customer and conducted extensive testing in the Los Angeles area.

The service allows Motional and Uber to study the integration of their technologies, consumer demand, the user interactions with the vehicle and additional autonomy features needed to enable autonomous deliveries. These factors are critical for a seamless customer experience and will also help inform broader applications of Motional’s fleet.

Uber sees autonomous vehicles playing a long-term role on its platform, across a variety of use cases and plans to be an accelerator in bringing this innovative technology to its customers.

There are numerous experiments in robot delivery taking place. Robot delivery has become commonplace on college campuses, and Domino’s has conducted experiments with Nuro on autonomous delivery. DoorDash is known to have studied autonomous delivery and tested the idea in 2019.

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