It’s been two years since Uber announced it was abandoning its attempt to build its own driverless cars, but thanks to a string of recent partnerships, the ride-hailing giant is now accelerating the integration of distributed fleets of delivery robots and autonomous vehicles. The car is brought to market.
Those attending CES, the world’s largest tech show, may have the chance to ride in an all-electric, self-driving Uber from Motional, a Boston-based Hyundai-backed startup. The two companies just announced a 10-year agreement to enable millions of autonomous rides on the Uber network. After the Las Vegas deployment, a wider deployment in Los Angeles is planned. Motional’s Hyundai IONIQ 5 robotaxis have been piloting Uber Eats deliveries in Santa Monica since May.
In Miami, Uber Eats is rolling out sidewalk delivery robots using Cartken’s AI vehicle. The robotics company, founded by former Google engineers, now operates on college campuses, offering food delivery services like GrubHub. The Uber Eats partnership will be its first outside of a college campus.
Other partners include Serve Robotics, which has been providing sidewalk deliveries to Uber Eats in West Hollywood. The Redwood City startup spun out of Uber last year following its $2.65 billion acquisition of Postmates in 2020.
Nuro will first be deployed on Uber’s network in Mountain View, California, and Houston, Texas. That stems from a 10-year deal announced at Uber’s Go/Get conference in May. The company is honored to be the first to receive a self-deployment license from the California DMV.
Noah Zych, who leads Uber’s global autonomous mobility and delivery team, said the scope of these partnerships demonstrates that shared autonomous vehicles will play an important role in the future of transportation and Uber’s mission to be the vehicle that helps users go anywhere. And get platform anything.
But Lyft is also pursuing these partnerships, and the road ahead is not without its challenges.
One of the biggest players in the space is GM subsidiary Cruise Automation, which has been offering self-driving services in San Francisco since last year. The company has about 100 self-driving cars without a safety driver and is looking to expand to 5,000. But the city is scrutinizing its plans amid concerns that the expansion could overwhelm city streets, according to a letter from SFMTA.
Also, there was the odd example of an empty robo-taxi being pulled over for a traffic violation without the police knowing how to interact with it. Crews said it has addressed the issue by providing police departments with training and a dedicated phone number to call in these situations.
The market is still in its infancy and operates in an environment of economic uncertainty and rising costs.
That’s despite exciting entrants like Zoox, which was acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billion in 2020, and Aurora, the self-driving truck company that went public last year after being spun off from Uber. Ford- and VW-backed Argo AI shut down abruptly in October, and Apple just dropped its ambitions for a fully-autonomous Level 5 car, opting for Level 4, which still requires human-machine interaction. It delayed the release of self-driving cars until 2026.
To better understand the current state of the technology, CES showcased many of these self-driving cars at the Jan. 1 show. 5 to 8 is in Las Vegas and is hosting the Indy Autonomous Challenge, a race in which nine fully autonomous cars race at speeds over 190 mph on January 17. 7 p.m., 1-3 p.m. at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.