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Motional Kicks off its Robot Food Delivery Pilot With Uber Eats in Southern California

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【Summary】​Hyundai’s autonomous driving technology unit Motional has officially kicked off its delivery pilot with Uber Eats in Southern California. Beginning today, Some Uber Eats orders placed in Santa Monica will be delivered using Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric SUVs outfitted with autonomous driving by Motional.

FutureCar Staff    May 16, 2022 10:30 AM PT
Motional Kicks off its Robot Food Delivery Pilot With Uber Eats in Southern California
The Motional IONIQ 5 robotaxi.

Hyundai's autonomous driving technology unit Motional has officially kicked off its autonomous delivery pilot with Uber Eats in Southern California. Beginning today, Some Uber Eats orders placed in Santa Monica, CA will be delivered using Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric SUVs outfitted with autonomous driving by Motional.

Motional is the $4 billion autonomous driving joint venture formed by automaker Hyundai Motor Co and Aptiv in 2020. The company is developing autonomous driving technology for the automaker.  

Uber Eats and Motional first announced their planned collaboration in December of last year. The partnership is Uber Eats' first on-road food delivery service using autonomous vehicles. It will also be the first time that Motional's self-driving vehicles are used for food delivery instead of carrying passengers. 

Motional is also working with ride-hailing company Lyft Inc in Las Vegas and is picking up passengers using the IONIQ 5 robotaxis as part of a seperate pilot.

"Autonomous delivery signifies the next phase of Motional's commercial roadmap," said Abe Ghabra, Motional's Chief Operating Officer. "This service will provide the learnings and experience needed to make Motional the trusted AV provider for on-demand delivery networks. We're proud to partner with Uber on this important milestone and begin introducing Uber Eats customers to autonomous technology."

Both Uber and Motional see a big opportunity to add autonomous delivery options for on-demand services like Uber Eats as a safer and more cost efficient way to fulfill customers orders, especially in urban areas.

To prepare for the commercial launch and eventual expansion of the service, the two companies said they have spent months studying every touchpoint between the restaurant and end-customer so the entire process is seamless. The companies have also conducted extensive testing in the Los Angeles area before launching the autonomous food delivery pilot

Participating Uber Eats restaurants will receive a notification when the self-drving Hyundai IONIQ 5 comes to pick up a customer's food order. Once the vehicle arrives at a designated pick-up location, the restaurant places the order in a specially-designed compartment in the backseat of the electric SUV that keeps the food hot or cold while in transit. The vehicle then drives autonomously to the customer's location. 

Once the IONIQ 5 arrives, customers receive a text alert to let them know. Customers can then securely unlock the vehicle's doors via the Uber Eats app to retrieve their food order from the compartment in the backseat.

The new pilot in Southern California will allow Motional and Uber to study the integration of their respective technology platforms, as well as study consumer demand and interactions with the autonomous vehicles in order to scale the service. 

Uber sees autonomous vehicles playing a long-term role on its platform, including ones that will eventually carry passengers. 

"At Uber, we're always looking for ways to use new technology to help consumers go anywhere and get anything," said Noah Zych, Global GM for Uber's Autonomous Mobility and Delivery business. "We're thrilled to begin piloting with Motional in California and are eager to see how their promising autonomous technology will begin to change how people and goods move throughout the world for the better."

Uber Eats is also testing the use of compact autonomous bots in Southern California for food deliveries in partnership with Serve Robotics, a Redwood City, California-based company that's developing the tiny robots for meals or grocery deliveries. Participating in the Uber Eats pilot with Serve Robotics is convenience store operator 7-Eleven.

Serve Robotics was founded in 2017 as the robotics division of Postmates, a company that's also working with automaker Ford Motor Co on last-mile autonomous delivery services. 

Uber acquired Postmates in 2020 for $2.6 billion in 2020 and spun off Serve Robotics spun off as an independent company in Feb 2021 with Uber retaining a 25% stake in the robotics startup.

The compact Serve Robotics delivery bots are called "rovers" and resemble small shopping carts. Each has a sealed compartment to protect the cargo. Customers can retrieve their food once the rover arrives at their location using the touchscreen interface on the rover. 

The Service Robotics delivery rovers are fully-electric and can operate on sidewalks and other locations that full-size vehicles cannot, making them well suited for Uber Eats food delivery services in urban areas. Like Motional's Ioniq 5 vehicles, customers receive a notification when the rover arrives so they can go outside and meet it.

Autonomous driving technology has the potential to reshape food delivery. The combined U.S. market for driverless robotaxi and food delivery services are expected to exceed $115 billion by 2030. Demand for food delivery has doubled since the start of the pandemic in 2020, and the use of mobile food delivery apps like Uber Eats and DoorDash was up more than 20% in 2021 alone.

Motional and Uber will learn from the pilot and take feedback from customers in order to jointly develop an automated delivery model that can quickly scale to other major cities in the U.S. 

The goal of the pilot is to create the groundwork for future commercial partnerships between Motional and Uber.


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