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Waymo, Uber Eats Partner on Driverless Food Deliveries

by | April 4, 2024

Users of the Uber Eats service in the Phoenix area now can order a meal delivered by a driverless vehicle as part of a partnership with Waymo.

Uber Eats Driverless Delivery v3The two companies previously began working together in parts of Arizona offering autonomous rides. The latest deal expands that relationship in a way that could actually save consumers money – since they won’t have to tip.

The partnership is starting out on a small scale. Only about a half-dozen restaurants so far have signed up to participate in the program. Meanwhile, Uber Eats customers will be able to opt out of using driverless deliveries.

How it works

At the start, Uber Eats is working with “select merchants” in three Phoenix suburbs, including Chandler, Mesa and Tempe.

Waymo Driverless Food Delivery

Images show how the Uber Eats/Waymo driverless delivery service operates. (Photos courtesy: Electrek.)

Customers who order from Princess Pita, Filiberto’s and Bosa Donuts, among others will see a message, “Autonomous vehicles may deliver your order,” on their Uber Eats app.

Customers can opt out entirely, using a setting in the app, or they can choose not to go with an autonomous vehicle on individual orders.

“When the autonomous vehicle arrives, you’ll receive an in-app notification to take your phone with you to unlock the vehicle and collect your items,” Uber said in a news release.

Skip the tip

Since there are still only a small number of Waymo driverless vehicles available, there’s no guarantee an order from one of those restaurants will be delivered autonomously. If it is, however, Uber Eats will cancel whatever tip a customer added to the order.

The downside of the process is that restaurants will have to go outside to load food into the Waymo vehicle. And customers will have to go out to the curb to pick their food up. There’s no drop-off service. That could lead to some customers preferring to stick with a human driver, especially when the weather is bad.

Neither Waymo nor Uber have yet explained how they plan to ensure customers get the right order – and that they don’t grab something that might be on the way to a second customer. Pizza chain Domino’s partnered with Ford several years ago on a similar, albeit experimental driverless delivery program. The vehicles were modified with individual compartments and customers were texted a code they could enter to access the bin where their order was being stored.

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What’s next

Uber Eats and Waymo haven’t indicated whether they plan to expand the program to more restaurants and other cities. Nor have they said if they might add other delivery services, such as working with grocery stores which have found high demand for home deliveries since the start of the COVID pandemic.

Uber already has some delivery operations underway in a handful of other cities, including West Hollywood, California, Miami, and even Tokyo. But this is the first time it has partnered with Waymo. The Google spinoff is the largest of the autonomous vehicle services.

For its part, Uber had been developing autonomous vehicle technology but dropped the program following a fatal crash in Mesa, Arizona. It has indicated it eventually plans to purchase technology to use for driverless robocabs. That could create substantially lower costs for both the company and its customers as human drivers are the company’s highest operating expense.

1 Comment

  1. Another example of technology taking away base level jobs from people who need the work.

    Reply

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