Uber Eats expands its autonomous food delivery service to Japan

The robotic delivery service will commence in select Tokyo areas in March.

Uber Eats

Following its autonomous food delivery launch in Miami and Fairfax, Virginia, Uber Eats will soon be offering the same robotic service in Japan — its first outside the US. It is once again collaborating with Google alum startup Cartken, with local compliance help from Mitsubishi Electric, to bring a fleet of Model C sidewalk delivery robots to select areas in Tokyo in March. Uber Eats Japan CEO Shintaro Nakagawa says the autonomous delivery service will solve the local labor shortage issue, while complementing the existing human delivery methods "by bicycle, motorbike, light cargo, and on foot."

Cartken's six-wheeled Model C uses six cameras and advanced AI models for autonomous driving plus obstacle detection, and remote control mode is available when needed. With guidance from Mitsubishi, the robot has been modified to suit local needs in Japan. For one, its speed is capped at 5.4 km/h or about 3.36 mph as per local regulation, which is a lot slower than the 6 mph top speed it's actually capable of. The loading capacity has also been reduced from 1.5 cubic feet to about 0.95 cubic feet (27 liters), likely due to the extra thermal insulation in the compartment. Uber Eats adds that for the sake of privacy, people's faces are automatically masked in footage captured by the robots.

While this is Uber Eats' robotic delivery debut in Japan, Cartken already has a presence there thanks to Mitsubishi. Since early 2022, the duo has worked with Starbucks, local e-commerce giant Rakuten and supermarket chain Seiyu in some parts of Japan. In the US, Cartken also has a partnership with Grubhub to provide autonomous food delivery service on college campuses, including the Ohio State University and the University of Arizona.

Even though Uber Eats has yet to share which Tokyo restaurants will be tapping into its robotic delivery service, it should have no problem seeking partnership given Cartken's prior local experience. That said, I highly doubt that the pair would risk trialing their robots through a crowd of drunkards in Shibuya just yet.