Late last year, Chinese-American autonomous driving startup Pony.ai began a self-driving taxi pilot project in Southern California.
But as the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the state, social distancing directives and shelter-in-place orders forced the company to shut down the robotaxis. Rather than entirely mothball its fleet, however, Pony.ai officials apparently decided to get into the delivery business.
CNBC reports that the company partnered with e-retailer Yamibuy to establish an autonomous delivery service in the Los Angeles suburb of Irvine. After local residents purchase Yamibuy products — goods primarily imported from Asia — one of 10 self-driving Pony.ai Hyundais picks up the order.
An operator rides in the autonomous car with the delivery to either drop it at customers’ doors or hand it to them from the vehicle. Company officials told the network the cars can make 500 to 700 deliveries per day.
The report noted that the modest delivery project could prove lucrative after the pandemic passes as logistics companies evaluate the rising costs of traversing the final miles to customers’ homes. Pony.ai was already valued at more than $3 billion after Toyota announced a $400 million investment in the startup in February.