Uber Eats is launching two autonomous delivery pilots in Los Angeles on Monday with Serve Robotics, a robotic sidewalk delivery startup, and Motional, an autonomous vehicle technology company.
The new programs are part of a series of new products that Uber is launching on its ride-hail and delivery platforms, to be announced Monday at the company’s Global Product Event.
The Motional partnership was originally announced in December and marks the first time Uber has partnered with an AV fleet provider, as well as Motional’s first attempt at autonomous delivery. So far, Motional has focused on robotaxis and has partnered with companies such as Lyft and Via.
Serve Robotics is actually a spinout of Uber, so it’s not surprising to see the two partners in the delivery space. But it’s worth noting that Uber isn’t working with Aurora on this one, given the two companies’ cargo space partnership, their shared histories, and the fact that Uber is a major investor in Aurora. Aurora acquired Uber ATG, the self-driving arm of Uber, in 2020, and under the terms of the deal, Uber invested $400 million in the company, giving it a 26% stake.
Uber told TechCrunch that the company is considering partnering with more than one player in the space, and that the public may see more partnerships in the future.
Both pilots start small, supplying food from just a few merchants, including an organic cafe and juicer called Kreation. Serve’s program will focus on shorter trips in West Hollywood. Motional’s will handle longer-distance deliveries in Santa Monica, according to an Uber spokesperson.
“We will be able to learn from both pilots what customers actually want, what merchants actually want, and what makes sense for delivery as we begin to integrate our platform with AV companies,” the spokesperson said. “The hope is that they are successful and that we learn in the coming months, and then figure out how to scale.”
According to Uber, customers will be charged for deliveries with both Serve and Motional, including the cost of food. However, it’s not entirely clear how Uber and Motional will change that. In order to charge an autonomous delivery fee in California, Motional would need to obtain a deployment permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles. So far, it is only licensed to test with a safety driver on board.
In response, Uber said only that “Motional and Uber expect that certain delivery charges, which normally apply, should not be charged during this first phase.”
Motional further clarified, saying during the pilot that there are no charges specific to the delivery being orchestrated by the Motional vehicle.
There doesn’t seem to be any laws restricting companies from charging for curbside robot deliveries, so Serve is clear. Uber said that if a customer decides to tip a Serve robot, it will be refunded.
In addition, under the rules of Motional’s testing license with the California DMV, a human safety operator will be onboard the vehicle during deliveries. According to an Uber spokesperson, this operator will also manually drive the van near customer drop-off locations if necessary.
“If there is a delivery point nearby, but not within Motional’s current autonomous service area, the vehicle is operated manually to deliver the order to the customer’s home, rather than asking them to walk to meet the AV, a Motional spokesperson told TechCrunch. “This is done to ensure an easy and seamless experience for customers and to maximize the number of opportunities to provide customers with a contactless delivery experience. As Motional’s autonomous delivery area expands, more trips will be fully autonomous.”
Serve’s robots can operate under Level 4 autonomy in some scenarios, the company said. During the Uber pilot, the robots will be monitored by a third-party operator who will take over in certain cases, such as crossing the street, Uber said.
Customers living in one of the two geofenced test zones will see an option at checkout to have their food delivered by an autonomous vehicle. When they sign in, the customer can track the food as they normally would, and when it arrives, they’re notified to meet the AV outside. Customers get a passcode on their phone that allows them to unlock the vehicle and grab the food, whether the meal is in one of Serve’s cooler-like robots or in the backseat of one of Motional’s cars.
This article has been updated with statements from Motional.
This post Uber Eats tests autonomous delivery with Serve Robotics, Motional – TechCrunch was original published at “https://techcrunch.com/2022/05/15/uber-eats-pilots-autonomous-delivery-with-serve-robotics-motional/”