BEIJING – Toyota-backed self driving company Pony.ai said Friday it would provide an autonomous delivery service to residents of Irvine, California, as demand for online orders has surged because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Some 90% of U.S. shoppers are under stay-at-home orders, and a jump in demand for package and grocery delivery has left e-commerce platforms struggling to cope.
In response, Amazon has said it plans to hire 75,000 more people for jobs ranging from warehouse staff to delivery driver positions.
Pony.ai said in a statement it would use autonomous electric vehicles to deliver packages from local e-commerce platform Yamibuy to customers in Irvine, California, which has a population of more than 200,000.
The autonomous fleet comprises 10 electric Kona sport-utility vehicles made by Hyundai. Its deliveries will mark Pony.ai’s first attempt to deliver goods, rather than transport passengers.
As part of efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, self-driving technology companies — including Alphabet Inc. unit Waymo, General Motors Co. unit Cruise and Uber — have suspended autonomous car testing that involves back-up drivers.
Pony.ai said in March it would pause its public robotaxi services in Fremont, also California, and Irvine for three weeks.
The company is testing cars in the Chinese cities of Beijing and Guangzhou, and California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) eased regulations on autonomous delivery services last year.
The DMV said at the time it would allow the testing and commercial use of light-duty autonomous delivery vehicles on California’s public roads with certain permissions.
Pony.ai, founded in 2016, raised $462 million in its latest funding round in February, led by an investment by Toyota, Japan’s largest automaker. It is also backed by Sequoia Capital China and Beijing Kunlun Tech Co.
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