Autonomous car making debut with first-of-its-kind delivery in San Mateo

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- Silicon Valley startups are racing to lead the driverless delivery market, and one company is now using their technology to team up with local businesses -- all with the goal of bringing more options to consumers.

It's an orange and black vehicle that could soon be coming to a neighborhood near you.

Burlingame-based startup Udelv unveiled its autonomous, last-mile delivery vehicle Tuesday morning by conducting its first public road test in San Mateo.

Grocery orders from Draeger's Market downtown were delivered to two nearby customers.

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The customized Polaris GEM completed a 2.5-mile loop, which included multiple traffic lights and lane changes, as well two delivery stops, as company employees and invited guests gathered in the Draeger's parking lot to watch a live feed of the drive in progress. In compliance with current state regulations, the vehicle was supervised by a safety driver and in test mode.

"Deliveries are the perfect first application for autonomous vehicles," said Daniel Laury, Udelv CEO and co-founder. "Customers simply open the locker with a press of a button on their mobile device and the vehicle heads on its way to the next delivery or back to the store."

Fred Barez, director of the hybrid and electric vehicle technology program at San Jose State University, says interest in autonomy is high among current and prospective engineers in Silicon Valley.

"Various types of software that is written to control these vehicles is on everybody's radar," says Barez. "(They're) trying to learn from this technology and trying to implement it."

To ensure reliability, Udelv has created a teleoperations system to monitor and control the vehicles remotely, and to also allow for overrides and human-assisted guidance when necessary.

Tuesday's drive was supervised by a safety driver in accordance with current state guidelines. Vehicles won't be fully autonomous until regulators relax the rules, which is expected to happen sometime within the next few years.

The company hopes to have 1,500 of its autonomous delivery vehicles on the road by 2021.

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