Uber Eats deliveries in Santa Monica, California are about to change. Today, the food delivery company and Motional began operating their automated delivery service. The two announced a partnership in December.

This pilot programme will allow Motional and Uber to study the technology alongside consumer demand. The two will also learn how consumers interact with the autonomous vehicle.

The delivery service works by alerting the restaurant when the AV arrives at the designated pick-up location. There’s a specially designed backseat compartment for the food. When the AV arrives at the drop-off location, it alerts the customer, who can unlock the vehicle through the Uber Eats app and collect their order.

Motional, a joint venture between Aptiv and Hyundai, uses Hyundai Ioniq 5 EVs for its delivery vehicles, which the company modified for AV service. While the company has experience moving passengers, its automated food delivery service is its first push into performing commercial deliveries. This is also the first time Uber Eats has partnered with an autonomous vehicle company for deliveries.

To prepare for the pilot programme, Motional spent months studying every touchpoint of the end-to-end delivery experience. That included extensive testing in the LA area to ensure safe, efficient, and reliable deliveries for the start of the service. But as we’ve seen time and time again, there are real-world situations a computer can never be fully prepared to encounter.

Abe Ghabra, Motional’s COO, said that this pilot program “signifies the next phase” of the company’s commercial roadmap. The two will use feedback from this programme to shape how it can quickly scale, expanding to more areas in Los Angeles and other cities. Motional sees this as laying the “groundwork for future commercial activities” with Uber.

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to revolutionise society, but that is still years away from happening. Until then, companies like Motional are working alongside others like Tesla, General Motors, and others to perfect the new technology. Delivery services and robotaxis are just the beginning, but they’re a crucial first step that will require some human hand-holding for the foreseeable future.