Uber Eats to Deliver Orders With Sidewalk Bots

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Adrianna Nine
2023-06-01 08:10:00

When your takeout can’t come to you on a delivery drone, it might arrive via sidewalk bot. Uber has announced that it will begin using robots from one of its properties’ spinoff startups to deliver Uber Eats orders in markets across the US, expanding on a pilot program in Los Angeles.

The partnership will involve working with Serve Robotics, an Nvidia-backed Silicon Valley autonomous robot company, to deploy up to 2,000 sidewalk delivery bots in major Uber Eats markets. Rather than handing orders to human delivery drivers, participating restaurants will pack customers’ meals into the bots’ cargo containers. From there, the bots will use Serve’s Level 4 self-driving capabilities to wheel their way to customers. (Serve’s “remote pilots” will supervise the trip and intervene if obstacles like construction arise.) Customers must use a randomly generated passcode to unlock the cargo container upon arrival to prevent passersby from intercepting orders. 

Close-up of a Serve robot with an Uber Eats order.

Credit: Serve Robotics

Uber first began testing the bots in 2022. More than 200 Los Angeles restaurants opted into the pilot, resulting in a 30% month-over-month Serve delivery increase involving a fleet of 100 robots. This ultimately encouraged Uber and Serve to bring the technology to Hollywood and West Hollywood, where they’ll begin the 2,000-bot rollout. San Jose, Dallas, and Vancouver are expected to come next.

According to Serve, the sidewalk bots’ advantages are primarily environmental. They’re fully electric, precluding the tailpipe emissions produced by conventional delivery vehicles. Because they operate on the sidewalk, they also reduce the amount of traffic on the roads. “By reducing our over-reliance on cars, they help lower CO2 emissions as well as traffic congestion,” Serve’s FAQ page reads. “If we are able to take even a small fraction of food deliveries off the road, we estimate Serve can help eliminate over 1 billion car miles and more than 370K tons of CO2 annually.”

There are likely to be financial benefits for Uber, too. Serve operates under a “delivery-as-a-service” business model, which means it gets paid each time it completes a delivery. Uber and Serve haven’t disclosed how much the robotics company will receive per bot delivery. Still, chances are it’s less than the fares, promotional bonuses, and “trip supplements” Uber pays its contracted delivery drivers. And given the state of American gig work—particularly in California—that could be precisely what Uber is looking for.

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