Pony.ai has teamed up with e-commerce site Yamibuy to launch a driverless delivery service in Irvine, California. Once a customer in the Irvine area place an order on Yamibuy, an autonomous car will pick up the package and deliver it to the destination. The customer then either comes to the car to collect it or an operator, who will be in the car, will drop it off at the doorstep.
Chinese driverless car start-up Pony.ai has launched a delivery service in Irvine, California using its autonomous vehicles as people remain stuck at home due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Last year, the company launched a robo-taxi service in Irvine in partnership with Hyundai using the South Korean automaker’s cars equipped with Pony.ai technology. That driverless taxi service was suspended after a “shelter-in-place” order was issued in northern California in March.
Pony.ai has repurposed its fleet of 10 vehicles for deliveries. It has teamed up with e-commerce site Yamibuy for the initiative.
Once a customer in the Irvine area places an order on Yamibuy, an autonomous car will pick up the package and deliver it to the destination. The customer can either come to the car to collect it or an operator, who will be in the car, will drop it off at the doorstep.
Yamibuy has a variety of products on its site — from food to drinks and cosmetics.
The whole process is contactless, the company claims. A Pony.ai spokesperson said the company can deliver somewhere between 500 to 700 packages a day.
Pony.ai is a competitor to the likes of Waymo, the self-driving car subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet. In February, it raised $462 million in a funding round which included Japanese automaker Toyota, valuing Pony.ai at around $3 billion.
In December, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) authorized the testing and commercial use of light-duty autonomous delivery vehicles on the roads. Pony.ai is regulated by the California DMV.
While Pony.ai’s delivery service is only available in one area of California and on a small scale, it could prove valuable for improving the company’s systems. Autonomous driving technology relies on driving hundreds of thousands of miles to collect data and learn from that in order to make the systems more accurate, reliable and safer.
Carrying out a pilot service of this kind could give Pony.ai valuable insight and data, as well as a boost in autonomous deliveries for when the coronavirus pandemic has ended.