You know that phrase “you see what you look for?” I am knee-deep in that right now. As we put together The Spoon’s first conference on food robotics and automation happening in April, I see robots everywhere.
Case in point: news via The Telegraph that Uber is hiring a “micromobility robotics” team to develop self-driving scooters and bicycles. The obvious reason to build a team like this, as The Telegraph points out, is to develop scooters and bikes that could “drive themselves to charging points, potentially removing the need for costly contractors paid to collect them.”
Occam’s Razor tells us that this straightforward answer is probably the correct one, but since I’ve got food-realated robots on the brain, my first thought was something bigger and more delivery minded.
I’ve written before that I think Uber’s electric Jump bicycles could be a sleeping giant in the urban food world, particularly for restaurant food delivery. Uber Eats drivers on nimble e-bikes could quickly make multiple deliveries in dense cities because they wouldn’t have to deal with traffic, parking, and all the other headaches that come from driving an actual car in a city. And having an e-bike means more speed and a potentially smoother ride for your fries.
But what if the self-driving Uber bike didn’t just find its way back to a charging spot, but instead went from a nearby restaurant to a customer’s door? Instead of your standard two-wheeler, it might be easier to imagine something more akin to Kiwi’s self-driving trike. Kiwi’s trike carries smaller delivery rover robots, but an Uber version could just be outfitted with compartments to hold food that consumers unlock when the trike pulls up.
In addition to being quick on car-congested streets, self-driving delivery bikes might be easier for cities to accept (read: regulate). Bikes aren’t a new type of vehicle for lawmakers to grok (like self-driving pods), they are low-speed and don’t take up much room.
Delivery bikes/trikes could even be an incentive for restaurants to partner with Uber on virtual kitchens. A restaurant that leased their own, dedicated Uber delivery trike could get better promotion in the Uber Eats marketplace for their real or virtual establishment.
Like I said, I’m basically a cyborg right now assembling our Articulate conference in April (you should get tickets!), so I’m always dreaming of electric delivery sheep. But the idea of Uber creating self-driving bikes and then using them for other parts of the business is something anyone could see happening.