Amanda Breen, Entrepreneur.com
If your UberEats delivery driver has ignored the box checked “leave order at door” one too many times, there’s a new way to eliminate the unwelcome face-to-face interaction that comes with your late-night pizza or ice-cream pint: robots.
That’s right. Uber is one of the latest companies to attempt delivering food to customers’ homes using robots, CNN Business reports. This month, Uber will launch two test programs to deliver Uber Eats in greater Los Angeles; they’ll involve four-wheeled, cartoonish robots with headlights for eyes and self-driving cars.
Beginning on Monday, some UberEats customers will have the option to choose a robot delivery, and those who do will receive instructions in the Uber app detailing how to retrieve their order, though it’s fairly straightforward: Grab the food out of the robot’s cooler-like body or from the thermal container in the backseat of the car.
The robots, operated by Serve Robotics, will be supervised by a remote human operator. The cars will be self-driving Hyundai sedans from the company Motional, necessary for handling larger orders. Owned by Hyundai and the automotive tech supplier Aptiv, the company also has plans to roll out a robo taxi service with Lyft in Las Vegas next year.
Noah Zych, who leads autonomous mobility and delivery at Uber, told CNN Business that robot deliveries will make up a “very, very small number” of the company’s deliveries for now, but that “This is the first chapter of autonomous vehicles doing delivery on Uber. We see the potential in the future but have to start where we are today.”
Uber certainly isn’t the first to use robots to help with deliveries. Amazon began public testing of its own robot-delivery service, Scout, in 2019, and Domino’s and Kroger have toyed with the concept as well. However, technical and regulatory issues still pose challenges, so it might be a while before companies make wider use of robots for deliveries.
But it remains an attractive option, particularly as Uber’s adjusted EBITDA (a profitability metric) is worse for food delivery than ride hailing, and reduced labor costs could help boost it.
Uber is down more than 26% month over month.
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