Uber Eats trials robot deliveries

Uber has begun a trial of two different restaurant robot delivery services in greater Los Angeles. The company has said in the past that robot deliveries are key to it achieving profitability so while a small move, it is significant.

The global logistics tech company will be using smaller four-wheeled delivery robots similar to those run by Starship for some of the runs and driverless cars for longer routes.

Uber Eats customers in LA will be given the option to have their meals delivered by robot instead of a human delivery. The Uber app will give them instructions as to how to retrieve their food from the machine.

The small delivery robot, the Serve appears to be like a colourful cooler on wheels with a lid that the customer unlocks on top to collect their food from inside. These robots will operate in West Hollywood.

In Santa Monica meanwhile, Uber Eats will use Hyundai self driving cars for larger orders. The vehicles will use Hyundai-owned Motional self-driving systems. The hot food will be stored in a thermal container on the back seat where the customer will retrieve it with a code from the app.

Neither Serve or car vehicles will be completely unsupported. The Serve robots will have remote human operators keeping an eye on them, while a driver will sit in the driver’s seat to prevent the AI driving system from making mistakes.

Uber’s robot deliveries will account for “a very, very small number of our deliveries” in the near future, according to Noah Zych, who leads autonomous mobility and delivery at the company. “This is the first chapter of autonomous vehicles doing delivery on Uber,” Zych said. “We see the potential in the future but have to start where we are today.”

While contributing to almost 50% of its overall revenues in the first quarter of the financial year, food delivery is still a major loss maker. Uber is banking on robots, which don’t require a personal income, to steer towards profitability.

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