Uber has announced a partnership with driverless vehicle technology provider Motional to provide “autonomous” food deliveries to select customers early next year. It’s Uber’s first on-road delivery partnership with an autonomous provider, and if everything goes according to plan, it could represent the first phase of a new business model for the ride-hailing and delivery company.
The two companies said trials will begin in early 2022 in Santa Monica, California. Motional will deploy its all-electric Hyundai IONIQ 5-based robotaxis, which are SAE Level 4 vehicles, for the job complete with in-vehicle modifications to accommodate food delivery.
Initially, customers will only have access to a curated set of meal kits from select restaurants rather than the full array of options available through the traditional Uber Eats service. A Motional spokesperson told Engadget that the service will launch with safety operators present in vehicles, meaning it’s not quite a 100 percent autonomous operation – at least, not yet.
Motional also wouldn’t share how many vehicles it plans to put on the road, nor do we know what hours it’ll operate or if the self-driving delivery vehicles would run in inclement weather like rain or fog.
Uber found itself between a rock and a hard place when the pandemic set in and lockdown efforts went into effect. Newly minted CEO Dara Khosrowshahi ensured investors that the company had enough money to ride out Covid-19, and started looking to new streams of revenue to get through the outbreak.
That summer, the company purchased food delivery service Postmates for $2.65 billion before snapping up alcohol delivery service Drizly for $1.1 billion this past February.