Uber will test ‘autonomous’ food delivery sometime next year

Uber and autonomous vehicle company Motional announced today an “autonomous delivery” partnership through Uber Eats. As you can imagine, there are some caveats.

The pilot should be launched at some point “early 2022”, although Motional (who is also a partner between Hyundai and Aptivo) will not give more details about the weather. The full range of food options that are otherwise available through Uber Eats will also not be available. Instead, customers will choose between “a set of selected meals from selected restaurants.”

Nor will this joint venture really be “driverless” per se. A spokesman for Motional told Engadget that we would “launch the service with the security operators present in the vehicle.” Not-so-autonomous deliveries of meal kits will be limited to Santa Monica, California, where much of the Motional team works.

Other long-standing questions, such as the number of vehicles Motional plans to place on public roads, or the weather conditions that will allow them to operate, remain unanswered.

Under its original leadership, Uber initially planned to turn the semi-professional workforce of taxi drivers into a contingent one, and then completely eliminate those overhead costs by investing in self-driving vehicles. “The reason Uber could be expensive is because you pay for another type in the car,” said former CEO Travis Kalanick in 2014. “When there’s no other type in the car, the cost of transporting Uber anywhere is cheaper.” Six years later, the company has sold its self-driving arm, known as the Advanced Technologies Group, to Aurora.

Since then, Uber has continued to partner with external self-driving companies, such as Waymo. Motional has an ongoing partnership with Uber’s main rival, Lyft, to launch an autonomous fleet in 2023.

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Naveen Kumar

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