Uber will test ‘autonomous’ food delivery sometime next year

Uber and autonomous vehicle company Motional today announced a partnership for “autonomous deliveries” through Uber Eats. As you might imagine, there are some caveats.

The pilot is slated to launch sometime in “early 2022,” although Motional (itself a partnership between Hyundai and Aptiv) would not provide further details on the timing. The full range of food options normally available through Uber Eats are also not available. Instead, customers will choose from “a curated set of meal packages from select restaurants.”

This joint venture will not necessarily be “driverless” either. A Motional spokesperson told Engadget that “we will be launching the service with security personnel present in the vehicle.” Non-autonomous meal kit deliveries will be limited to Santa Monica, California, where much of Motional’s team works.

Other lingering questions, such as the number of vehicles to be used on public roads, or what type of weather they are allowed to drive in, remain unanswered.

Under his original leadership, Uber initially planned to convert its semi-professionalized taxi driver workforce into a temporary workforce and then completely eliminate these overheads by investing in self-driving vehicles. “The reason Uber can be expensive is you pay for the other guy in the car,” former CEO Travis Kalanick said in 2014, “If there’s no other guy in the car, the cost of getting an Uber somewhere cheaper.” Six years later, the company sold its self-driving arm, known as the Advanced Technologies Group, to Aurora.

Since then, Uber has pursued partnerships with third-party 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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