Uber Eats is now testing autonomous food delivery in the Los Angeles area. According to TechCrunch, Uber is collaborating with two companies to make this rollout happen: Motional, an autonomous vehicle company, and Serve Robotics, an autonomous sidewalk delivery company.
“We want to make Uber the best platform for all AV technology partners—to leverage the power and scale of Uber’s platform to bring safe, reliable autonomous technology to consumers around the world,” an Uber Eats spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo this morning. “These unique pilots are among our first steps to integrate autonomous technologies into Uber’s strategy to be the one global platform to help you go anywhere and get anything.”
Motional and Uber announced their partnership back in December 2021, and Motional has been testing self-driving capabilities since November 2020. Serve Robotics is actually an Uber-adjacent startup—after Uber acquired Postmates in 2020, it repurposed the latter’s robotics division into a full-fledged startup called Serve Robotics. TechCrunch further reported that this pilot program is starting small before expanding its reach, where Serve Robotics will service short distance deliveries in West Hollywood while Motional will embark on longer distance drives in Santa Monica.
Uber Eats has been a major source of revenue for the company, despite restaurants continuing to reopen at full capacity in the wake of pandemic shutdowns. CNBC reported that investors in Uber are happy with the growth of Uber Eats coming out of the pandemic, but CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is interested in growing the subsidiary even faster. Experimenting with self-driving delivery could be a way for Uber Eats to increase revenue while cutting the overhead of paying drivers as part of a wider rollout in the future.
Autonomous vehicles have had their fair share of problems over the years. In 2018, the human back-up driver behind the wheel of an autonomous Uber was charged with negligent homicide of a pedestrian while the driver was watching television on their phone. Uber faced no criminal charges in the wake of the accident. Given the potential myriad of issues that driverless vehicles could present, Uber’s reliance on self-driving vehicles to deliver food could prove to be highly efficient or more trouble than it’s worth.