Delivering Goods and People

Lots of self-driving companies are back to testing, in limited capacity, in the US. Right now, they’re typically testing delivering goods — not people — to vulnerable communities.

As an aside, Jewel Li from AutoX mentioned on a recent Autonocast episode that Chinese self-driving companies are totally back to normal, testing at full capacity, and working in the office.

But here in the US, lockdowns are still mostly in effect and self-driving companies are trying to both do the right thing and get back out on the road by becoming delivery services.

I imagine this plays especially well for self-driving companies that were founded from the start as delivery services, not robotaxis. First and foremost in that list is Nuro, which announced a partnership with CVS to deliver prescriptions.

Interestingly, “As with all our pilots, we will begin service with our autonomous Prius fleet to make deliveries, before introducing deliveries with R2, our custom-built delivery bot.”

I wonder what Nuro’s stages are, moving from a Prius with (presumably) a safety operator, to a driverless R2 (possibly with a safety operator trailing in another vehicle?), to a driverless R2 with no Nuro staff in the vicinity. I did a quick scan of Nuro’s blog and didn’t see anything, but I haven’t followed them closely on this particular issue.

On the other end of the spectrum, robotaxis face the challenge of providing a safe vehicular environment for many, many passengers to share (albeit at different times).

Early in the COVID crisis my old boss, Oliver Cameron, who is now co-founder and CEO of Voyage, tweeted:

Oliver is so good at Twitter. Things that normal people like me would spend days and even real dollars on, Oliver puts on Twitter and gets answers.

You can read in the Twitter thread that he got a lot of suggestions. We’ll see if any of them pan out. The immediate upshot seemed to be captured by this GIF he subsequently posted.

In the medium-term, a big question for robotaxi companies will be whether this becomes mandatory, or whether COVID diminishes as a real public health concern, leaving the world the way it was in mid-2019.

If COVID doesn’t go away soon, a lot of robotaxi companies might be tempted to become delivery companies.

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