Uber plans to use drones for food delivery, unveils new autonomous car

Ride-hailing giant has been given approval to begin testing food deliveries by drone in San Diego, California

12 June 2019 - 18:29 By afp.com
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.
Image: AFP

Uber said on Wednesday that it would begin testing food delivery by drone as it ramps up its Uber Eats service that partners with restaurants.

The ride-hailing giant announced at its Uber Elevate Summit this week that it had been given regulatory approval to begin testing delivering food by drone in San Diego, California.

"Our goal is to expand Uber Eats drone delivery so we can provide more options to more people at the tap of a button," said Luke Fischer, head of flight operations at Uber Elevate.

"We believe that Uber is uniquely positioned to take on this challenge as we're able to leverage the Uber Eats network of restaurant partners and delivery partners, as well as the aviation experience and technology of Uber Elevate."

For logistical reasons the drones will not deliver directly to customers but to a safe drop-off location, where an Uber Eats driver will complete the order.

In the future, Uber hopes to land the drones on vehicles parked near delivery locations to allow for the final delivery to be done by hand.

Uber said it had developed a proprietary airspace management system called Elevate Cloud Systems that will guide the drones to their location.

While not the first food drone delivery service, Uber is aiming for a potentially large-scale service through its food service partners across the US.

Initial testing in San Diego was done with McDonald's and will be expanded to include additional Uber Eats restaurants later this year.

Separately, Uber unveiled its newest self-driving vehicle, produced by Volvo Cars.

The Volvo XC90 prototype will be "capable of fully driving itself," said Uber in a statement. Sensors atop and built into the vehicle will allow it to operate in an urban environment.

"Working in close partnership with companies like Volvo is a key ingredient to effectively building a safe, scalable, self-driving fleet," said Eric Meyhofer, CEO of Uber Advanced Technologies Group.

Uber signed a deal in 2017 with Volvo, which is owned by China's Geely, to produce "tens of thousands" of self-driving cars for a fleet of autonomous taxis.

This week, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he does not expect fully self-driving vehicles to be deployed for at least 15 years, but that autonomous features will be gradually introduced and that some "easy" trips may be made autonomously.