Uber is expanding its partnership with curbside delivery robot startup Cartken to Fairfax, Virginia.
Starting Thursday, UberEats customers in the Mosaic District can choose to have groceries delivered from select merchants via one of Cartken’s small, six-wheeled, autonomous robots.
This is the second city where Uber and Cartken have partnered for commercial deliveries. The companies first launched a pilot in Miami in December, which is ongoing.
The Mosaic District is a shopping and dining hub, and the bots will deliver food from the restaurants to homes and businesses “in and around” the district, according to an Uber spokesperson. Uber did not specify what the delivery radius would be, but the district is about 31 acres, or 0.5 square miles, according to the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development.
Cartken’s robots are electric and have a carrying capacity of about 1.5 cubic feet, or about two paper grocery bags. The robots have a series of cameras that are used to identify objects and help them reach their destination. Cartken has said before that his robots work fully autonomously under certain conditions. If the bot comes across something it hasn’t found yet, it can contact a remote operator for help.
In addition to his partnership with Uber, Cartken has also linked up with Grubhub to bring bots to college campuses like The Ohio State University. Sidewalk delivery robots are becoming increasingly common on college campuses, where the carefully delineated sidewalks and enclosed environment create a safe place to test autonomous technology.
That’s also likely why the Mosaic District is also an attractive location for Uber and Cartken to launch their latest partnership.
The companies will not share the size of the Cartken fleet that will be rolled out, but Uber said it can be scaled to meet customer demand. A spokesperson also told TechCrunch that the robots can operate in all types of weather, including snow or rain. The spokesperson declined to provide the exact hours the bots will operate, but said customers would be able to access them for lunch and dinner orders.
From the customer’s perspective while ordering, nothing much will change. The customer will still pay the merchant for the cost of the food and may also pay a delivery fee to Uber. However, if a customer adds a tip, he or she will receive a refund for that tip.
When the order is delivered, the customer will need to meet the bot outside and Uber will give them instructions on how to access their order.
Uber has been adding more and more to its pilot autonomous vehicle portfolio in recent years. Last May, the company began a pilot program in Los Angeles to deliver food using Serve Robotic’s autonomous sidewalk robots and Motional’s self-driving cars. Late last year, Uber and Motional also launched a robotaxi service in Las Vegas, part of the companies’ 10-year plan to jointly scale in major North American cities.