Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s comments on Saudi Arabia are rightly grabbing most of the headlines today, following his televised appearance on Axios on HBO this weekend. But during that interview, Khosrowshahi also said some things about Uber’s autonomous driving future which are worth at least noting.
Axios posted an unaired clip from that interview and in it, Khosrowshahi says that full autonomous ride-hailing is probably five to ten years off. However, he thinks that for very simple routes and tasks, there will be some form of autonomous driving going on in just three to five years.
Though he doesn’t mention Uber Eats specifically in the clip, food delivery certainly seems like it could fit the bill when it comes to simple tasks and routes. As Khosrowshahi points out, safety is still a huge issue for autonomous vehicles. On its face, carrying food instead of people is at least a little bit safer, because there is no one inside the self-driving vehicle who can get injured. (Obviously it still needs to be safe for pedestrians and other people out in the world.)
Also carrying food is a much simpler task than carrying a person, who may not be at a pickup point, or might want to get dropped off at a particular spot, or could even barf in the backseat of a car.
Uber could also create simple, autonomous routes for food delivery, similar to the hub and spoke model we talked about with Uber’s upcoming drone delivery. If Uber builds out more centralized ghost kitchens that host a number of different restaurants, food ordered from those restaurants could be bundled together into an autonomous vehicle that drives along a simple route to a drop-off point in a neighborhood where drivers pick it up for last mile delivery. This autonomous middle-mile is something that Walmart is already exploring to move goods between Walmart stores.
Autonomous vehicles also eliminate the cost of human drivers, so they would be cheaper to operate than Uber’s current fleet. This displacement of human labor brings up its own societal issues, and Uber is already in the hot seat for how it classifies its drivers. Uber is going to have to sort all this out because three years is not that far away.