Uber Eats begins using robots to deliver food in one Virginia city

April 20, 2023, 3:34 PM UTC
Uber will roll out robot deliveries in Fairfax, Va.
Carl Juste—Miami Herald/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

Uber Eats drivers could be the next job threatened by robots.

The company has expanded its pilot program to Fairfax, Va., where an undisclosed number of the 40 Mosaic District restaurants that use Uber Eats will hand deliveries over to a autonomous robots.

It’s the latest move in the partnership between Uber Eats and Cartken, an AI-powered robotics company.

“Cartken is at an inflection point, where we are rapidly bringing our AI, computer vision, and lidar-less autonomous robots to more places,” said Anjali Jindal Naik, co-founder and COO at Cartken.          

Cartken also works with Uber Eats competitor GrubHub, delivering food on college campuses. It has worked with Uber Eats on a previous trial of robot deliveries in Miami.

Based in Oakland, Calif, Cartken was founded by a team of former Google engineers. Each of its robots has a container that can deliver as much as 24 lbs. of cargo and uses embedded cameras to avoid obstacles and aid in guiding it to its destination.

Deliveries are made curbside, since the robots (which resemble coolers on wheels) are incapable of climbing stairs. They’re much slower than traditional vehicle deliveries, moving at roughly the speed of a human’s walking pace, but with a dedicated fleet of delivery-bots, that could cut down on wait times.

Uber has shown a growing interest in autonomous vehicles for the past several years, noting it could prop up the advertising business (including its own in-house ad arm).

It’s moving a bit slower than it did before the pandemic, however. The company, at the time, had widespread testing of the vehicles, but sold off the unit after a woman was killed by one of the cars in 2017.

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