Chinese self-driving technology company Pony.ai said it was set to launch an autonomous goods delivery service to residents in the Californian city of Irvine to help meet demand for online orders due to the COVID19 coronavirus lockdown.

According to reports, online demand for packages and groceries in many parts of the US has risen sharply due to the virus pandemic, leaving e-commerce platforms overwhelmed.

Pony.ai said in a statement it plans to use autonomous electric vehicles to deliver goods to customers in Irvine, a city south of Los Angeles with around 200,000 inhabitants, from local e-commerce platform Yamibuy.

Pony.ai has so far focused on autonomous passenger transportation services and this will be its first entry into goods transportation. 

The company will use Hyundai Kona battery powered compact SUVs to launch this service, reflecting its close relationship with the South Korean automaker.

Last October the two companies unveiled an autonomous ride hailing service in Irvine called BotRide, but this has been suspended due to the virus outbreak.

Other self-driving taxi services such as Waymo (Alphabet), Cruise (General Motors) and Uber have also suspended their services.

Amazon said it was responding to the recent spike in online demand across the US by hiring 75,000 additional personnel, including delivery and warehouse staff.

Pony.ai joins Toyota on autonomous mobility