Motional and Uber to Deliver Meals with Robotaxis in Santa Monica
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Motional and Uber to Deliver Meals with Robotaxis in Santa Monica

Residents of Santa Monica will be able to have their food delivered by robotaxi next year.

Boston-based advanced driverless company Motional announced Thursday it would collaborate with Uber Technologies on a program to deliver meal kits to customers using a fleet of modified autonomous-capable Hyundai cars. Motional is also planning to launch its robotaxi service in Las Vegas sometime in 2022.

When the delivery service first rolls out though, the tech won’t work with any Santa Monica restaurant within a given delivery radius. Rather, customers who want food delivered by a robotaxi will go through the Uber app, where they will find an option to select a Motional vehicle with a curated selection of meal kits.

A Motional spokesperson told dot.LA it would announce more details of the contents of the kits that are also part of the Uber partnership.

While the company called the program “an expansion into driverless delivery,” Motional confirmed to dot.LA it does not have a permit with the California Department of Motor Vehicles to operate vehicles on public roads without a driver. As a result, all of their delivery robotaxis will have a human operator inside.

In a post on the Motional website on Thursday, President and CEO Karl Iagnemma cited the rapid growth of delivery services — roughly doubling since the start of the Covid-19 spread and pandemic-instigated shutdowns in March 2020 — as the company’s reason for getting into the space. Iagnemma predicts the driverless food delivery service market to exceed $115 billion by 2030.

The robotaxi announcement is Motional’s latest announcement about its Santa Monica hub. In August, the company announced it would significantly expand its Santa Monica operations after moving to a larger space to accommodate staff and the anticipation of vehicle testing on public roads. The company said then there would be more than 100 employees at the Santa Monica location by the end of 2021.

Founded in 2020, the young company has been making significant moves apart from expanding staff and testing. Hyundai, which has its American operations in Fountain Valley, will play a significant role in testing vehicles for future autonomous or driverless testing and implementation for ride-hailing services.

It sealed the deal with the automaker last March when it was announced Hyundai’s all-electric Ioniq 5 small SUVs would be fitted with the tech company’s light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and other equipment necessary for detecting road objects.

While Motional has been testing the Ioniq 5 in other markets, the Santa Monica Uber program will be the first time it will be deployed for public use, ahead of a fully driverless ride-hailing pilot program in Las Vegas set to start in 2022.

The $40,925 Ioniq 5 also just went on sale to the U.S. public; the first vehicle was delivered to an L.A. resident on Wednesday.

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Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.
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