Uber Eats to rid itself of pesky human drivers with food delivery by robo Waymo

First they came for the taxis and I did nothing because I was not a taxi driver

Bad news if you're income-boosting, or God forbid trying to make a living, as an Uber Eats delivery driver because the robots are coming – to one part of the United States, at least.

On Wednesday Uber announced a deal with Alphabet's Waymo to use the latter's self-driving car fleet as delivery vehicles around Phoenix, Arizona, serving up residents of Tempe, Mesa, and Chandler with meals from select restaurants. For those who missed it, Waymo's self-driving taxi rides, in the few spots they are available, operate entirely on their own with no one at the wheel, being summoned and paid for via the Waymo app.

"The addition of food delivery to Uber’s ongoing partnership with Waymo reflects both companies’ mission to encourage zero-emission trips and unlock greater innovation for consumers and merchants," Uber enthused.

Placing an order on the Eats app automatically opts you into using a driver-free delivery, if one's available, although there is an opt-out option at checkout. From the screenshots Uber shared, the app will also remind buyers that any tips will be removed from the cost of autonomous delivery.

That does, however, mean you have to pick up your food yourself from the vehicle, using your phone to unlock the Waymo self-driving car via Bluetooth, and allow the retrieval of the tasty (or not) morsels from inside. You also have to hope nothing spilled during the ride and is now decorating the floor of the high-tech transport.

Uber Eats already has robot delivery of a sort in a few locations using Serve robots - motorized coolers that can use the sidewalks in some urban environments. Some at least; trundle one of those through Skid Row in Los Angeles and it'd be cracked open before you could say turkey dinner.

But driver-less, autonomous cars are a different proposition and much more efficient than carrier droids (incendiary attacks in San Francisco aside), so Uber's move is an entirely logical one. Phoenix is an automated driving hotspot, and if Waymo has got cars free, why not use them? Plus it's a move toward finally solving Uber's Layer Eight problem.

We'd make more money if it wasn't for you pesky drivers

For context, just this past Valentine's Day, Uber and Lyft drivers went on strike in 44 cities across the US asking for better wages for their work.

It was only a two-hour stoppage but is a sign that gig workers, or "independent contractors," are getting fed up with being nickeled and dimed, as they see it. Uber, Lyft and others say that they pay above minimum wage - well above in some US states.

Nevertheless, the money is coming in for operators. Last year a study from the UCLA Labor Center into New York City ridesharing showed that passenger fares had increased 50 percent between February 2019 to April 2022, while driver pay rose just 31 percent.

More worrying for Uber, Lyft, and others, is the US Department of Labor's January announcement that the agency is reconsidering the legal status of apps using independent contractors as what are essentially paid employees albeit without the benefits. Any ruling would almost certainly be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, a process that could take years.

Similar moves are afoot in Europe, with the EU mulling giving so-called self-employed staff better legal rights and protections. And in the UK, gig drivers already have the right to join the massive GMB union.

So, the takeaway? Automating humans out of the whole process makes perfect sense for Uber. It can concentrate on refining algorithms, extracting the cut it takes from providers, and forget about dealing with human resource problems. It's so 21st Century, in both a good and a bad way. ®

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