Motional join Uber to provide autonomous food deliveries in California

, the self-driving joint venture, said it was entering the autonomous delivery market by providing food in California to Uber Technologies Inc customers.

Motional said it would start delivering meals from select restaurants on Uber's food delivery app Eats in Santa Monica in early 2022.

The companies did not say whether the partnership would be expanded to other locations. But Motional President and Chief Executive Karl Iagnemma in a statement said the joint-venture was seeing “many long-term opportunities for further deploying Motional's technology across the Uber platform.”

The deliveries will be made in Hyundai's fully electric IONIQ-5 vehicles, converted to operate autonomously. A spokesperson said a safety driver will be present inside the vehicles.

Asked whether Uber Eats customers would have to walk to the vehicles to accept their meal orders, the spokesperson said the companies would share more details on the service ahead of the launch.

Motional's pivot to food delivery follows a move by many companies in the self-driving industry to expand from their original ambition of providing a consumer services.

Self-driving companies have repeatedly pushed out timelines to provide truly driverless rides, with only a few limited fully autonomous programs available across the U.S.

Automating the delivery of goods in less challenging environments, such as suburbs or along highway stretches, is offering a faster way to generate returns.

Motional has been operating a robotaxi pilot program in Las Vegas with U.S. Uber rival Lyft Inc over the last three years. Motional and Lyft in November said they will launch a fully driverless ride-hail service in Las Vegas in 2023.

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