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 beta program is slated to launch sometime in “early 2022,” although Motional (which is itself a partnership between Hyundai and Aptiv) won’t provide further details on timing. Also, the full range of dining options normally available through Uber Eats will not be available. Instead, customers will choose from a “curated selection of meal combinations from select restaurants”.

This joint venture would not be “driverless” in and of itself. A Motional spokesperson told Engadget that “we will be launching the service with the safety operators in the vehicle.” Totally non-standalone meal set deliveries will be limited to Santa Monica, California, where much of the Motional team operates.

Other outstanding questions, for example how many vehicles Motional plans to put on public roads, or what types of weather they will be allowed to operate in, remain unanswered.

Under its original leadership, Uber initially planned to convert the workforce of semi-professional cab drivers into a workforce, then remove those overhead costs entirely by investing in self-driving vehicles. “The reason Uber is so expensive is because you pay for the other guy in the car,” former CEO Travis Kalanick said in 2014. “When there’s no other guy in the car, it’s cheaper to ride Uber anywhere.” Six years later The company has sold its self-driving arm, known as the Advanced Technologies Group, to Aurora.

Since then, Uber has sought partnerships with third-party self-driving companies, such as Waymo. Motional has an ongoing partnership with Uber’s main competitor, Lyft, to launch an independent fleet in 2023.

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