Tech News

Uber is making it easier to get picked up at your exact location

Anyone who has taken more than a few Uber rides will know how complicated things can be when you need to be picked up in a busy, unfamiliar location. A call from the driver is all but guaranteed as they attempt to find your precise location while you look out through a field of cars in hopes of spotting your driver. Now Uber is back with an update to help address this issue.

When a rider orders a car, the app may place their pin near their location, but not exactly in the right spot — for example, it ends up in the middle of the street for some people. Uber has updated its rider and driver apps so that drivers will now get more descriptive information about their rider’s location, as well as a notification about which side of the street they’re on.

For example, Uber says that rather than giving drivers a generic address to retrieve the rider, they’ll start seeing more descriptive instructions that include things like specific stores, helping the driver figure out more precisely where the customer is located. Likewise, the app will be able to account for the rider continuing to walk to their pickup location in applicable instances.

In addition, Uber says it is addressing some of the navigation struggles drivers have reported. The updated drive app enables drivers to view and choose from alternative routes that may be faster or shorter in distance. The company says that it is likewise working on traffic-based rerouting to help drivers avoid the more congested routes.

Beyond that, drivers now have the option to change their navigation provider directly within Uber’s app, meaning they can use the service they prefer. The rider retains the ability to follow the route with their own phone to keep tabs on where they’re going.

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Tech News

Uber teams with Walgreens to help riders get COVID-19 vaccine

Ride-sharing company Uber has teamed up with Walgreens to help customers get appointments for a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time they schedule a ride to the pharmacy. With this new feature, users can browse vaccination appointment time slots at Walgreens in the Uber app, claim the time they want, then continue on to book a ride for the appointment.

Though it is still difficult to get a COVID-19 vaccination appointment in some places, many states are seeing a drop in demand that is making same-day appointments possible. If you want to see whether there’s a time slot available at your local Walgreens, you can tap the banner in the Uber app that reads “Need a vaccine?”

You’ll then be able to tap a “Schedule a vaccine” option, at which point you’ll be prompted to enter your zip code. The app will then find your local Walgreens store and show the COVID-19 vaccine appointment time slots that are currently available.

Assuming you choose to book that time, you’ll see a page with all of the important details, including the date and time for your second vaccine dose appointment. From there, you’ll then be taken to the familiar Uber ride page where you’ll arrange for an Uber ride to take you to the COVID-19 appointment.

Of course, the option remains to directly book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through Walgreen’s website and app, as well as the digital platforms for other companies participating in the vaccine program, including CVS and supermarket pharmacies like Kroger Pharmacy.

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Tech News

Uber and Lyft create shared database to ban dangerous drivers

Uber and Lyft will share information on dangerous drivers and delivery people, aiming to make it easier to remove people who have been deactivated from a company’s platform over serious safety incidents. The Industry Sharing Safety Program will help flag ride-hailing drivers who have committed physical assaults that result in a fatality, as well as sexual assault, so that they can’t jump to a different company’s service and continue there.

While it’s Uber and Lyft who are setting up the Program, they’ll be opening it up to other transportation and delivery network companies within the US. In order to participate, companies will need to agree to report information on their own deactivated drivers, along with using a special shared taxonomy for incident reports, among other things.

The incidents will be categorized in part using a preexisting system of taxonomy, developed in 2018 by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and the Urban Institute. Dubbed the Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence Taxonomy, it collated reports of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault made to Uber from its users. It was designed to help Uber support staff correctly pinpoint examples of sexual misconduct and violence, including explicit comments or gestures, staring or learning, or non-consensual touch.

In addition to that, the Industry Sharing Safety Program will also record physical assault fatalities.

Responsible for collating and administrating the data, meanwhile, will be HireRight. It will collect the information, and then match and share it with other companies involved in the Program. It’ll also be responsible for checking that each participating company is sticking to its commitments to best practice and industry standards.

“The companies have worked with HireRight to develop a survivor-centric, comprehensive process that incorporates learnings from anti-sexual violence advocates over the past several years and prioritizes safety, privacy and fairness for both drivers and survivors,” Uber and Lyft said today.

What the system doesn’t do, however, is collate reports on users of Lyft and Uber’s services. That came to attention recently after Lyft opted to permanently block a rider who had been caught on camera coughing on an Uber driver, and then ripping off his mask. “Although this incident did not involve the Lyft platform,” the company said at the time, “the unacceptable treatment of the driver in this video compelled us to permanently remove the rider from the Lyft community. Driving in a pandemic is not easy.”

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How Uber Freight handled shifts in demand during the pandemic

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Roughly 80% of all cargo in the U.S. is transported by the 7.1 million people who drive flatbed trailers, dry vans, and other heavy lifters for the country’s 1.3 million trucking companies. The trucking industry generates $726 billion in revenue annually and is forecast to grow 75% by 2026. Even before the pandemic, last-mile delivery was fast becoming the most profitable part of the supply chain, with research firm Capgemini pegging its share of the pie at 41%.

To tap into this, in 2017 Uber launched Uber Freight, the company’s grab at the $8.1 trillion global logistics transport industry. Uber Freight connects carriers and drivers with companies that need to move cargo. When a business schedules a delivery through Uber Freight for shippers, they get prices upfront in the Uber Freight app. Customers are matched intelligently with carriers in Uber’s network and see a real-time, mutually agreed-upon quote that’s determined by market conditions and “other factors.”

Uber Freight customers can book loads and reloads together to make it easier for carriers to travel more efficiently. For recurring shipments, the recently introduced Lane Explorer feature leverages machine learning to assess dynamic factors and generate rates for each of the next 14 calendar days out.

In a conversation with VentureBeat, Uber Freight marketplace head Bar Ifrach spoke about the logistics and freight challenges and opportunities brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. While some shifts in demand were more predictable than others, such as the uptick in hand sanitizer shipments, others, like the explosion in home goods purchases, required a watchful eye on the part of Uber’s engineers to ensure the algorithms powering Uber Freight remained stable.

Starting in March, when the pandemic was just taking hold, Ifrach says there was strong demand for consumer products and medical equipment, followed by sudden shortage shocks. In the second half of 2020, demand for shipment was still increasing — but supply was becoming less efficient.

“The freight network is never fully balanced, but it has some organic balance to it, meaning that when a truck goes from point A to point B, there’s some chance it will come back from B to A full of merchandise,” Ifrach explained. “The industry average is about 79% of the time a truck is full. But what we were seeing early on was that there was a really big increase in imbalance.”

Even in the face of instability, Uber Freight’s algorithms remained remarkably consistent, according to Ifrach. He explained that Uber uses both internal and external data to train the algorithms, as well as internal tools to monitor them and guarantee they remain adaptive to change.

Load bundling increased on the Uber Freight platform by 100% in April and May, according to Ifrach. This led to a 22.6% reduction in empty, or non-revenue, miles for drivers using bundling. As an added benefit, because it gave drivers the option to book loads and reloads together instead of booking each load separately, Uber said it likely helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions from trucks on the road.

“Many of our algorithms are looking at what’s happening [in real time] and are able to look at all sorts of adjustments to the baseline,” Ifrach said. “When there’s a very strong impact in a particular region, it’s this ability to adapt more quickly that’s needed.”

Beginning last June, Uber began tracking thousands of loads per week with its participating freight partners. Using this data, the company developed an estimated time to arrival model based on machine learning algorithms Uber claims are 50% more accurate than a leading industry benchmark.

Uber’s investment in technology and infrastructure is paying dividends. During its most recent earnings call, the company revealed that Uber Freight posted year-over-year revenue growth of 43% to $288 million, up 8.6% over Q3. CFO Nelson Chai told investors listening in that there was a 45% quarter-over-quarter increase in the number of active shippers using Uber Freight’s API and enterprise offerings.

Chai attributed a least a portion of the growth to the launch of Uber Freight Enterprise and Uber Freight Link last September. The former is a corporate-scale extension of Uber’s self-serve shipping platform, while the latter enables enterprise shippers to leverage Uber Freight’s technology across their full carrier network.

Uber announced in March 2019 that it would hire hundreds of Chicago-area Uber Freight workers ahead of plans to lease additional city office space. Later that year, Uber signed a 10-year lease on the Old Main Post Office in the Chicago River district and hired “thousands” of new employees in the region, substantially growing its Chicago workforce. The investment came to $200 million collectively, according to Uber.

“We have a terrific group with people with stats expertise, distance expertise, economics expertise, operations research, and very strong engineering around handling data and flowing back data and algorithms — building products that [perform really well]. The goal is to provide shipping quotes really quickly to shippers [so that they can] make the best decision for the business,” Ifrach said.


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Tech News

Uber is about to acquire a big US alcohol delivery service for $1.1bn

Uber has announced that it will acquire Drizly, an alcohol delivery service that offers on-demand access to adult beverages in hundreds of markets across the US. The Drizly platform itself won’t be going away, but Uber notes that in the future, it will integrate the alcohol delivery platform with its own Uber Eats delivery service.

According to Uber, it has agreed to acquire Drizly for around $1.1 billion in the form of cash and stock. Once the acquisition is complete, Drizly will become a wholly-owned Uber subsidiary, eventually making its way within the Uber Eats app while also remaining available through the standalone Drizly mobile app.

Once the integration arrives, Uber Eats users will have greatly expanded on-demand alcohol delivery options — while you can currently get alcohol delivered with your Uber Eats order, it comes from the restaurant you order your meals from, assuming they offer such products.

Drizly, meanwhile, is a platform through which you can order wine, beer, liquor, and other alcoholic goods from local stores and have them delivered on your behalf using a Drizly delivery driver. Once the platform is integrated with Uber Eats, you’ll be able to place the same type of orders through that platform.

Drizly currently offers alcohol delivery in around 1,400 cities spanning most of the US. Assuming the regulatory approval and other business matters are settled as expected, Uber says the acquisition deal will likely close sometime in the first half of this year.

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