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Uber Eats, Motional launch driverless delivery in Santa Monica

First-of-its-kind partnership was announced in December

Food delivery apps found a winner when they added the “leave at door” option to limit customers’ interactions with couriers. But what if your food wasn’t delivered by a human courier at all?

That’s exactly what Uber Eats (NYSE: UBER) and Motional are doing in a new delivery pilot. Launched Monday in Santa Monica, California, the service combines Uber Eats’ delivery platform with Boston-based Motional’s driverless vehicle technology to enable end-to-end food deliveries — no driver necessary.

“At Uber, we’re always looking for ways to use new technology to help consumers go anywhere and get anything,” said Noah Zych, global general manager 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.”

The new service will leverage Ioniq 5 vehicles from Hyundai (OCTUS: HYMTF), which launched Motional as a joint venture with global technology company Aptiv (NYSE: APTV). Motional uses the Ioniq 5 as a robotaxi as part of its driverless vehicle partnership with Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT). But now, for the first time, the company has adapted the vehicles for autonomous delivery.

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“Autonomous delivery signifies the next phase of Motional’s commercial road map,” said Motional COO Abe Ghabra. “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.”

Participating merchants on the Uber Eats platform will receive a notification when Motional’s autonomous vehicle arrives. Then all they need to do is meet the vehicle at a designated pickup spot and place the order in a specially designed compartment — it handles the rest.

Once the vehicle arrives at the drop-off location, the customer will receive an alert. To collect an order, all the customer needs to do is unlock the vehicle’s door using the Uber Eats app.

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The launch of the Santa Monica pilot is the largest step yet in the partnership between Motional and Uber, which was announced in December. The two companies plan to study consumer demand and user interactions with the autonomous vehicles, with plans to scale the model first across Los Angeles and then into other major cities.

Late last week, Uber Eats announced a second delivery pilot in the Los Angeles area that uses autonomous sidewalk robots to deliver to customers in West Hollywood. That service also took effect Monday through a partnership with Serve Robotics, which is actually a spinoff of Uber’s robotic delivery division.

Interestingly, neither partnership will leverage Aurora, another driverless vehicle technology company with which Uber has had a relationship since 2020. That year, Uber sold its self-driving arm to Aurora. Under the terms of the deal, it invested $400 million in the company, giving the massive mobility and delivery provider a 26% stake.

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Jack Daleo

Jack is a staff writer for FreightWaves and Modern Shipper covering topics like last mile delivery and e-commerce fulfillment. He studied at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism with a certificate in integrated marketing communications. Previously, Jack has written for Backpacker Magazine and enjoys travel, the outdoors, and all things basketball.