Could one benefit of the international covid crisis be accelerated testing and implementation of autonomous vehicles? Possibly. Many factors have conspired during this global health crisis to make driverless deliveries an important feature of our future. Due to stay at home orders, many people are, rightfully, trying to limit the number of times that they go to the grocery store. This has resulted in high delivery demands and long wait times. While delivery limits the number of people to whom you are exposed, it does not remove the risk completely as there is still a driver who must bring the goods to the customers. A driverless delivery on the other hand eliminates all contact with people who are not in your immediate family, making it a very desirable service.
Additionally, due to the stay at home orders, there are less cars and people on the streets. This allows for autonomous vehicle companies to test their products in lighter traffic conditions. Notably, in May 2020, Nuro became the first company to receive conditional approval to launch its autonomous vehicles, even though they do not meet human safety requirements since the vehicles do not feature items such as a steering wheel or rear-view mirrors on the street, according to The Associated Press. Two reasons why the permit was granted was that the vehicle is not meant to drive humans and that it has a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, pointed out the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
At the beginning of this pandemic, Nuro’s autonomous vehicle was used at two of the arenas-turned-field-hospitals in California to carry various supplies around the large fields, reported The Verge. This however was a relatively simple objective as it took advantage of repeated tasks to program specific paths that were carried out exclusively on private paths. In contrast, Nuro announced a couple days ago that it would partner with CVS Pharmacy to deliver prescriptions directly to customer homes. According to “CVS VP of store operations Ryan Rumbarger […] the company has seen an increased demand for deliveries in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.” This project raises the stakes significantly as it requires going out on public roads as well as verifying the identity of the customer at the final destination to ensure that the medication does not fall into the wrong hands. Through various cameras and sensors, the vehicle is in theory capable of navigating public roads and verifying ID on arrival.
In your opinion, is this initiative just a ploy to get more attention or do you think that it could actually greatly benefit society? What are some of your potential concerns around this initiative?