Uber Eats is turning to autonomous vehicles in a major market. Along with AV partner Motional, the third-party delivery platform will be launching a new autonomous delivery experience in Santa Monica, California.
Deliveries will be conducted in Motional’s IONIQ 5 vehicles, which are capable of operating autonomously. Participating restaurants bring packaged orders to the curb and place them inside a locking compartment. Once the car arrives at its destination the customer is notified and retrieves the order from the car.
Uber Eats and Motional have been working on the various customer touchpoints for months with an eye toward a seamless rollout.
“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.”
Conspicuous in the new testbed is the absence of drivers. Uber and its drivers have long had a tense relationship. Autonomous vehicle technology seems primed to enable Uber to move forward without those drivers before long.
The partnership is relatively new, which makes the rollout all the more impressive. Motional and Uber announced their partnership in December of last year. This is the first on-road autonomous vehicle (AV) pilot on the Uber Eats network, which makes it an important milestone for the technology in general. Uber Eats controls an estimated 24% of the food delivery market, making its adoption of any new technology highly influential.
Motional’s vehicles have been piloted in passenger conveyance but the move to food delivery represents a pivot. The Motional IONIQ 5 vehicles used in the service have been adapted to enable autonomous deliveries. The new service will allow Motional and Uber to study consumer response and technology integration. Uber clearly has long-term designs on AVs across its platform.