Science & Technology

Uber Eats Pilots Robo-Delivery in Japan

As Japan is easing traffic laws to allow free movement of self-driving delivery robots, Uber Eats jumps on the bandwagon with food delivery by Cartken’s autonomous sidewalk robot.

Uber Eats Pilots Robo-Delivery in Japan

Uber Eats has partnered with Mitsubishi Electric and autonomous robotics startup Cartken to launch an autonomous food delivery service in Japan using self-driving sidewalk robots as couriers.

The service will be initially available to customers in a select part of Tokyo via the Uber Eats app. It is expected to launch by the end of March. There are no details about operating hours and other ordering or payment specifics so far.

The robo-delivery service will be performed by Cartken’s autonomous sidewalk robot, dubbed Model C. It is equipped with a 27-liter insulated cargo bin and travels at about 3.3 miles per hour. In-built sensors, cameras and advanced software help the robot detect obstacles, plan the route and flexibly navigate the changing street environment.

In addition, Cartken’s Model C has a back-end system that allows the company’s workers to remotely monitor and guide the robot as required. Uber spokesperson has explained that Cartken’s teleoperations interface will be used by Mitsubishi Electric employees trained in Cartken’s remote guidance system.

“We hope that this newly announced initiative will serve as a catalyst for the spread of robot delivery services in Japan. In the future, we will work with buildings and factory infrastructure, which is one of our strengths, so autonomous robots will be able to deliver inside various facilities.”

Shoji Tanaka, the senior general manager of Mitsubishi Electric’s advanced application development center

The innovative service is possible due to the regulatory efforts of local authorities. This month, Japan has relaxed its traffic laws to enable autonomous delivery robots to help businesses in dealing with labour shortages and problems of rural isolation.

One of the peculiarities of the Japanese population is that  30% of its citizens are aged over 65. Many of them live in scarcely populated rural areas that lack access to daily necessities. The ageing population creates an acute labour shortage, including in the delivery segment. Besides, limited overtime for truck drivers makes it even more difficult for businesses to keep up with delivery demands. All those factors contribute to unfavourable conditions for delivery services such as Uber Eats.

Tokyo is a pioneer in local robotic delivery. It now faces the testing of numerous delivery robots from Panasonic, ZMP, Cartken, and other tech providers.

Uber has been partnering with Cartken for a while. It started in December 2022, with the implementation of the pilot project of robotic delivery in Miami. In April 2023, the two firms expanded their cooperation to offer autonomous delivery at the Mosaic District shopping center in Fairfax, Virginia. Successful collaboration in the US prompted Uber and Cartken to give the service a test drive in other locations and expand internationally.

Nina Bobro

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Nina is passionate about financial technologies and environmental issues, reporting on the industry news and the most exciting projects that build their offerings around the intersection of fintech and sustainability.