Pony.ai on Thursday announced it has launched a new last-mile delivery service in California. In partnership with Yamibuy, the company’s autonomous vehicles will deliver daily essentials to customers in Irvine.

Why it matters: This is the first time for the Toyota-backed AV startup do autonomous delivery. As the pandemic keeps citizens from street shopping and public gatherings, tech companies have a chance to experiment with new technology in live commercial operations.

Details: Pony.ai on Thursday began piloting a “contactless” delivery service for customers in Irvine through a partnership with Yamibuy, a California-based e-commerce platform featuring Asian snacks and beauty products.

  • Customers collect their groceries from Yamibuy on their doorsteps, delivered through its all-electric and self-driving fleet, Pony.ai said in an announcement. The AVs have a human safety driver behind the wheel.
  • A Pony.ai spokesperson said all orders in the Irvine area on the Yamibuy platform will be “automatically assigned” to Pony.ai for delivery.
  • The company began operating a robotaxi service with a fleet of 10 Hyundai vehicles in the city in November. It claimed it has so far completed more than 100,000 rides in several Chinese and US cities.

Context: Pony.ai is the latest AV company navigating use cases for the commercial operation of self-driving vehicles in delivery services.

  • Google’s self-driving unit Waymo began delivering packages in partnership with UPS with an undisclosed size of fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans in the metro Phoenix area early this year.
  • Alibaba-backed AutoX has been testing delivery service with two retailers in San Jose since mid-2018, reported TechCrunch.
  • Pony.ai and AutoX are two of the four self-driving companies granted permit for carrying passenger with self-driving cars in California, with a human safety driver required.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen