The Era Of Driverless Food Delivery Is Closer With Uber's New Partnership

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing numbers of restaurants and food service providers have turned to robotic service workers and AI technology to perform tasks once performed by humans. Now, one of the nation's largest food delivery apps is utilizing unmanned robotic vehicles to provide human-free delivery options in a handful of cities (via Zion and Zion).

Earlier this week, Uber unveiled an ambitious plan to expand its contact-free Uber Eats delivery options with the help of some futuristic technology (via Reuters). The company will begin employing self-driving vehicles to test contactless delivery for customers in Houston, Texas, and Mountain View, California.

For this futuristic endeavor, Uber teamed up with Nuro, a robotics company founded by former Google engineers, which specializes in autonomous delivery vehicles designed to tow packages and other deliveries on the road rather than the sidewalk (via TechCrunch). The most recent iteration of the Nuro delivery vehicle, which was unveiled in January, features temperature-controlled chambers that keep food deliveries cool or warm in transit.

This isn't the first time the ride-share juggernaut has ventured into the driver-free delivery space. Earlier this year, the company teamed up with robotics companies Motional and Serve Robotics to test both sidewalk and drive-up delivery options in the Los Angeles area (via CNN). The Nuro partnership will expand its autonomous delivery availability to new areas, including the greater Bay Area, over the next 10 years.

Nuro vehicles will service Texas and California

Customers who place an Uber Eats order in areas offering the test run will be able to opt for autonomous vehicle delivery when ordering takeout or groceries. The customer will then receive a tracking link from Nuro to follow the delivery vehicle on its journey. Once it arrives, customers receive an access pin to retrieve the delivery; each delivery will be contained in its own compartment, ensuring that no other users will have access to your order (via Nuro).

Nuro has previously partnered with Domino's Pizza to test self-driving pizza delivery vehicles in Houston, as well as with retailers including Walmart, 7-Eleven, and Kroger. The company also received a major investment from Chipotle, indicating that the Mexican chain is also interested in implementing autonomous delivery in the future (via CNBC). The company's latest partnership with one of the nation's leading delivery services may mark a significant shift in the way takeout is delivered in the future.

Although it's unclear if or when the autonomous Uber deliveries will be available in other locations across the U.S., as the presence of food delivery drones and robots grows more ubiquitous, it's only a matter of time before most Americans can get a Chick-fil-A sandwich or pint of ice cream dropped at their doorstep — no tip or small talk required.