Uber is back in the robot business just in time for CES

It’s been two years since Uber gave up trying to make its own self-driving cars, but the transportation giant is now rushing to market with a distributed fleet of delivery robots and autonomous vehicles thanks to a recent flurry of partnerships.

Attendees at the world’s largest technology trade show, CES, could have the chance to ride an all-electric self-driving Uber from Motional, a Boston-based Hyundai-backed start-up. The companies have just announced a 10-year agreement to bring millions of autonomous rides through the Uber network. Following the Las Vegas rollout, a broader rollout is being planned for Los Angeles. Motional’s Hyundai IONIQ 5 robotaxis have been making Uber Eats deliveries in Santa Monica since May as part of a pilot program.

In Miami, Uber Eats is rolling out curbside delivery bots with Cartken’s AI-powered carriers. The robotics company founded by former Google engineers currently operates on college campuses with food delivery services like GrubHub. The Uber Eats partnership will be the first beyond college campuses.

Other partners include Serve Robotics, which has been doing curbside delivery for Uber Eats in West Hollywood. The Redwood City startup spun off from Uber last year as a result of its $2.65 billion acquisition of Postmates in 2020.

And Nuro, which will have its first deployment on the Uber network in Mountain View, California and Houston, Texas. This follows on from a 10-year deal announced at Uber’s Go/Get conference in May. The company is honored to be the first to obtain an autonomous deployment permit from the California DMV.

Leading Uber’s global team on autonomous mobility and delivery is Noah Zych, who has said that the scope of these partnerships shows the important role shared autonomous vehicles will play in the future of transportation and in Uber’s mission to be the platform which helps users to go anywhere and get anything.

But Lyft is looking for these partnerships, too, and the path forward is not without its challenges.

One of the biggest players in the space is GM subsidiary Cruise Automation, which has been offering self-drive rides in San Francisco since last year. The company has around 100 autonomous vehicles operating without a safety driver and is looking to scale to 5,000. But the city is taking a closer look at its plans as concerns have been raised that such an expansion could overwhelm city streets, according to a letter from the SFMTA.

Also, there have been rare cases where an empty robotaxi has been pulled over for a traffic violation and the police don’t know how to interact with it. Cruise has said that he has addressed this issue by providing training to police departments and a dedicated phone number to call in such situations.

The market is also still in its infancy and operates in an environment of economic uncertainty and rising costs.

Though there are exciting entrants like Zoox, which was acquired by Amazon in 2020 for $1.2 billion, and autonomous truck company Aurora, which went public last year after being spun off by Uber. Ford and VW-backed Argo AI shut down suddenly in October and Apple simply abandoned ambitions to develop a fully autonomous Level 5 car, opting for Level 4 instead, where human interaction is still required. It has delayed the launch of its self-driving car until 2026.

To get a better idea of ​​where the technology is, CES is showcasing many of these self-driving cars at the show, which runs from January 5-8 in Las Vegas, and is hosting the Indy Autonomous Challenge, a competition in in which nine fully autonomous cars race at speeds of more than 190 mph on January 7, from 1-3 p.m. at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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