The COVID-19 reality has spawned a new autonomous revolution. As personal vehicles gain appeal and ride-sharing is shunned (if not banned outright), autonomous vehicle developers have been forced to either refocus their efforts on alternative autonomous applications or reinvent their vehicles entirely. Dentons Principal and Chair of the Global Autonomous Vehicle Group, Eric Tanenblatt, wrote in October in Futurride, that “this new normal presents an opportunity for a fresh vision of autonomous vehicles focused on public health and safety.”
In that October article, three innovative autonomous vehicle uses were highlighted. Firstly, Nuro, after receiving the second fully autonomous test-drive permit from California in early April, publicly announced that the company would use vehicles for grocery and food delivery to cut down on human-to-human contact and provide essential services to society’s most vulnerable. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic, in Jacksonville, Florida has been using autonomous vehicles to transport medical supplies and COVID-19 tests while General Motors’ subsidiary Cruise is using its self-driving vehicles to deliver meals to vulnerable populations.
This past week, two new examples of non-passenger autonomous vehicle uses emerged. The first is spearheaded by Gatik, an AV delivery company. Gatik, partnering with Canadian retailer Loblaw, is deploying five mid-sized autonomous trucks in Toronto starting in January. The vehicles, which will operate on public roads, are focused on middle-mile retail delivery, filling the gap between long-haul vehicles and last-mile bots.
Similarly innovative applications are now roaming the streets of China, as Kentucky Fried Chicken debuted new “restaurants on wheels.” These miniature, driverless, food-trucks dole out hot chicken paid for using QR codes. The vehicles are likely a result of the Neolix-Yum Brands partnership reported by Forbes last month.