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11/08/2021

Uber to pilot on-demand robotic delivery

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Uber is joining the increasingly crowded field of delivery platforms using autonomous robots to deliver fresh products.

Uber Technologies Inc. is partnering with autonomous sidewalk delivery company Serve Robotics to pilot an on-demand robotic delivery service in Los Angeles in early 2022. Users of the company’s Uber Eats food delivery platform in the Los Angeles area will be 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.

The rollout of Serve followed Amazon’s January 2019 announcement of a similar, cooler-shaped, six-wheeled autonomous device called Scout that makes short-range deliveries by traveling sidewalks. Initially rolled out in Snohomish County, Washington, Scout has since been deployed in markets including Atlanta and Franklin, Tenn.

Since Amazon kicked off the trend with Scout, retailers and delivery providers have been showing increasing interest in autonomous robots that can quickly make smaller deliveries by traveling sidewalks. Other examples include the FedEx SameDayBot which FedEx has tested with retailers including Walmart and Target; as well as the Tortoise remote-controlled, zero-emission delivery cart being piloted by Safeway, ShopRite, and Urban Corner Value Store; SaveMart Starship; and Yandex delivery robots Grubhub is piloting at Ohio State University.

Uber is also launching its Serve robotic delivery pilot as the company is generally expanding its presence in the on-demand delivery market. Other moves Uber has made in the space in recent months include purchasing alcohol delivery platform Drizly for $1.1 billion; as well as entering delivery partnerships with retailers including Albertsons, Walgreens, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Rite Aid.

"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," said Sarfraz Maredia, VP and head of Uber Eats in the U.S. & Canada. "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," said Dr. Ali Kashani, co-founder and CEO of Serve Robotics. "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."