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Uber announces micro-fulfillment robots in Miami

These are autonomous sidewalk robots from Cartken:

And last week, Uber announced that customers in Miami would start to see some of their food and grocery orders being delivered by them. The way it works is pretty simple. The app tells you when you need to meet your robot on the sidewalk (they apparently don’t do elevators). You open their secure compartment through your phone (or a code?). And then there’s your food! Next year, both companies intend to roll out this service across more of Miami-Dade and in other cities.

This isn’t the first sidewalk robot in existence. I’ve seen a handful of ones here in Toronto. But if it works, this could be a pretty meaningful partnership. Uber used to do self-driving autonomy in-house, and it was always positioned as central to the company’s future. Uber ended up selling off that part of its business in 2020 in order to raise cash and because autonomy started feeling a lot more difficult than probably most people expected. But what seems clear is that automation remains an important objective for the company. And for good reason.

I would imagine that, for some people, it’s going to feel weird seeing fleets of sidewalk robots roaming around our cities with shawarma wraps and burritos. But one of the things that services like Uber Eats have taught us is that a lot of people are willing to pay a premium for extreme convenience. So if these robots can add to that convenience and also make fulfillment a little cheaper, I suspect that people will quickly get over the weirdness.

Supposedly on-demand shawarma is also good for communities:

“We are excited about how this partnership with Uber will bring the advantages of robotics to food delivery—and ultimately create more connected communities,” said Christian Bersch, Co-founder and CEO at Cartken. “Together, we have the opportunity to reduce traffic congestion, help local merchants to increase delivery capacity, and bring consumers fast, convenient, and emission-free deliveries.”

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