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Irvine Tapped Once More for Tech Testing Grounds

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

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(OC Business Journal)

The city of Irvine has again been selected as the go-to for another technology test.

This time it’s autonomous delivery by Fremont-based tech firm Pony.ai, which is using a fleet of autonomous vehicles for grocery and other product delivery in the city of more than 280,000 people.

It’s a fitting time. The company – which focuses on autonomous driving technology – said with the state’s shelter-in-place order in effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a subsequent ramp in online ordering.

The vehicle fleet of 10 all-electric Hyundai Konas are being beta tested to provide the last leg of the logistics chain for purchases made in the Brea shop of e-commerce company Yamibuy.com.

The online retailer sells food, beauty, health, and home products catering to Asian Americans, with Chinese consumers a large chunk of its customer base.

That delivery test is expected to continue through summer, Pony.ai said.

Hyundai Help

The technology company said this is the first time it’s gauging the performance of its technology for delivery of goods. It also builds on momentum backing the startup.

Pony.ai, started in 2016, touts a $3 billion valuation with its total raised to date now at $726 million. Its most recent raise, disclosed in February, pulled in a cool $462 million. Some $400 million of that came from Toyota Motor Corp., which it linked with last year to test autonomous vehicles in China.

A spokeswoman for the tech company called the latest Irvine delivery test a “natural extension’ of an already-existing fleet of cars used in an earlier rideshare beta in Irvine, done in conjunction with Fountian-Valley based Hyundai Motor America Inc.

That program, called BotRide, began in November and ended earlier this year. It operated Monday to Saturday during specific time ranges and only within a selected portion of the city, with riders utilizing a mobile app to cue up a ride.

Irvine was initially tapped for the BotRide program, the Pony.ai spokeswoman told the Business Journal, “for its representative mobility-use cases, as a role model suburban city and for its proximity to Hyundai’s North America [headquarters].”

Hyundai spokesperson said the program serviced thousands of riders over a three-month period. Specifics weren’t given, but the automaker gleaned information on what users like, dislike, and expect from on-demand service and, therefore, “we think we validated that the model works.”

Amazon Testing Ground

Seattle e-commerce behemoth Amazon Inc. also seems to be fond of Irvine.

The company used the city to test its Scout autonomous delivery robots last year. University Center next to UCI got Amazon Hub Locker+ for customer pickups, making it the first in the region to offer that as a shipping option.

And, more recently, it was learned the city will see a new grocery concept from Amazon at Irvine Co.’s The Market Place shopping center. A spokeswoman for Amazon, earlier this year at the time the grocery was confirmed, declined to provide details on the store format or reason for Irvine being selected.

Category: Business News, Community News, Technology, Innovation

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