Nathan Ingraham

Forget rideshares, Uber will rent you a party bus | Engadget

Uber continues to show that it has grand ambitions that go far beyond the ride-sharing service that it first became known for. At the company’s second annual, product-focused Go/Get event, Uber announced a host of new features focused primarily on expanding its offerings in both the travel and delivery categories. 

Travel may sound obvious, given Uber’s background, but probably the most notable new offering is simply called Uber Travel; its focus is helping you get around when you’re not in your home city. It’s an integration with Gmail that can pull details out of your inbox like hotel, flight and restaurant reservations and group it together in the Uber app. The point, of course, is that you can then schedule rides for each of these events, and Uber will give 10 percent back in Uber Cash when you do. Uber Travel goes live today in the US and will be available in Canada within a few weeks.

Uber

Of course, you may be understandably wary about linking your Gmail account to Uber. I asked the company about what protections they have in place, and a spokesperson note that integrations with Gmail all have to undergo a security assessment and also get a letter of verification from a third party that Google chooses. Uber was verified through this process, and the company also has to follow the data privacy requirements found in Google’s API Services User Data Policy.

Another rather unconventional new service is called Uber Charter. This lets you reserve large vehicles directly through Uber — think things like party buses, coaches, passenger vans and so forth. It’s not clear how far in advance you’ll need to book these things, but the benefit is that you’ll see up-front pricing for whatever sort of vehicle you need. Uber says this is coming to “select cities” starting this summer.

Uber Charter

Uber

Uber definitely has larger gatherings on its mind with that new features, and Uber Vouchers could be similarly helpful for weddings and other events. Let’s say you want to make it easier for your guests to get to an event. Uber Vouchers lets you fill in event details like the location, set a maximum amount that you will pay. Once that’s set, you can share a code with your guests and their rides will be paid for out of the pool of money you put aside for those trips. Uber’s been doing this for businesses already, but now anyone can use the voucher system.

A number of other announcements Uber is making focus on its delivery services. Earlier today, the company made an announcement that it was launching two different autonomous delivery pilots in Los Angeles, one with autonomous vehicle company Motional and the second with Serve, which will do deliveries with autonomous robots (the Serve robot is pictured above).

The other new delivery features aren’t quite as big a deal, but they’ll actually be available to people not in LA. For starters, Uber Eats will soon support voice ordering with the Google Assistant. As you might expect, you simply say “Hey Google” and then ask your phone to order by asking for specific items from specific merchants. This will only work on Android for starters, but hopefully Uber Eats users with iPhones will get this feature as well (or something similar with Siri). Google Assistant integration is rolling out this summer, at which point I imagine we’ll get more specifics on exactly how it works. 

Uber Eats will also soon be available in a handful of sports arenas and stadiums, as well. Obviously, you won’t have drivers bringing food to the venue — instead, you can place an order from the arena’s eateries and go pick it up at your convenience. You can skip the line and go straight to pick-up once your order is ready, and Uber says it’ll work with food, beer, merchandise and more. This new program is initially rolling out at Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium in LA, Yankee Stadium in New York, the Capitol One Arena in Washington, DC, Minute Maid Park in Houston, PayPal Park in San Jose, and internationally at Roazhon Park in Rennes, France. 

Uber Comfort Electric

Uber

Finally, Uber has a few new features specifically focused on electric vehicles. Uber Green has let you request a ride from a hybrid or electric vehicle for a while now, but the new “Comfort Electric” option specifically lets you request a ride in a “premium EV” (think a Tesla or Polestar). This is available for starters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Dubai.

Meanwhile, Uber drivers using EVs will get some new tools to help make their lives easier. There’s a charging map built into the Uber app for drivers that shows the nearest EV chargers, their charging speeds and navigation to get there — this should make it easier for drivers to top up their cars during a shift. This is part of a new EV Hub in the app that gives drivers info and incentives on switching to an EV when the time comes. Among the details it includes is a cost of ownership estimate for an EV versus a gas-powered vehicle. The car-buying market is a bit wild right now, and it might take years before you start to see cost savings if you just buy a new EV to replace a functional gas vehicle, but drivers who might be thinking about a new vehicle may be able to find some useful tools here.

All this news comes shortly after Uber announced its quarterly earnings, a report that showed the company was bouncing back from the pandemic better than its rival Lyft. That’s at least in some part thanks to the relative diversity of Uber’s offerings — indeed, Uber Eats played a huge role in keeping business up as traditional rides tanked in 2020. While none of today’s announcements on their own will likely make a huge impact on the company’s business, it does help paint a picture for how Uber sees itself growing in the future.

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