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05/17/2022

Uber launches two autonomous delivery pilots

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Motional robotaxis
Uber is testing autonomous delivery vehicles including Motional robotaxis

Uber Technologies Inc. is moving forward with the testing of driverless delivery.

The Uber Eats on-demand delivery subsidiary of Uber is now conducting two separate pilots of two very different autonomous delivery vehicles in the Los Angeles area. Following is a brief overview of each program.

Motional robotaxis
Uber Eats is conducting end-to-end food deliveries for customers in Santa Monica, Calif. using Motional all-electric, self-driving Ioniq 5 “robotaxis.”

The Motional Ioniq 5 vehicles used in the service have been adapted to enable autonomous deliveries. Participating retailers will receive a notification when the vehicle arrives, meet it at a designated pick-up location, and place the order in a specially-designed compartment in the backseat.

Upon arrival at the drop-off location, the customer will receive an alert, securely unlock the vehicle door via the Uber Eats app, and collect their order from the backseat. The pilot will allow Motional and Uber to study the integration of their technologies, consumer demand, the user interactions with the vehicle, as well as additional features that may be needed to enable autonomous deliveries. 

The companies plan to learn from the service and receive customer feedback as they jointly develop an automated delivery model that could scale to more areas across Los Angeles and in other cities. The goal of the pilot is to create the groundwork for future commercial activities between Motional and Uber.

"At Uber, we're always looking for ways to use new technology to help consumers go anywhere and get anything," said Noah Zych, Global GM for Uber's Autonomous Mobility and Delivery business. "We're thrilled to begin piloting with Motional in California and are eager to see how their promising autonomous technology will begin to change how people and goods move throughout the world for the better."

“Autonomous delivery signifies the next phase of Motional's commercial roadmap," said Abe Ghabra, Motional's Chief Operating Officer. "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."

Serve Robotics delivery robots
Uber is also partnering with autonomous sidewalk delivery company Serve Robotics to pilot an on-demand robotic delivery service in Los Angeles. Uber Eats customers in the Los Angeles area are now able to have orders delivered contact-free by zero-emissions Serve rovers.

Serve began as the robotics division of Postmates, which was acquired by Uber in July 2020 for $2.65 billion, and was spun off as an independent company in February 2021, with Uber as an investor. According to Serve, its self-driving robots have successfully completed tens of thousands of contactless deliveries in major U.S. cities, and it has established several commercial partnerships.

Postmates (then an independent company) initially deployed Serve in Los Angeles in July 2019. Serve utilizes the Ouster LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensor to help manage activities such as navigating sidewalks and detecting pedestrians. Postmates combines its proprietary Socially-Aware-Navigation system with Ouster’s multi-beam flash LIDAR architecture.

“We are excited to partner with Serve Robotics to test a new kind of delivery in Los Angeles, that's safe, reliable and environmentally friendly," Sarfraz Maredia, VP and head of Uber Eats in the U.S. & Canada, said when the pilot was first announced in November 2021. "We're always looking for ways to better serve merchants and consumers, which is why we're working with the team at Serve to explore the potential of this technology."

"Serve Robotics is looking forward to delivering great convenience for Uber Eats merchants and customers," Dr. Ali Kashani, co-founder and CEO of Serve Robotics, said in November. "Uber is our first commercial partner and will be a strong source of demand for us as we use contactless delivery to power community commerce at scale.”