Self-driving startup Nuro recently got the go-ahead to start testing two if its driverless vehicles on California roads.
While the state’s shelter-in-place order put that program on hold, the robotics company found another use for its R2 robotic delivery vehicles.
Starting this week, the unmanned R2 vehicles are delivering medical supplies to help patients affected by COVID-19.
“We realized that we could potentially use our R2 unmanned vehicles to provide truly contactless delivery of goods, where we remove any possible interaction between a driver dropping off goods and a person picking them up, states Dave Ferguson, co-founder of Nuro, in a blog post. “Our team subsequently began conversations with federal, state and local organizations to volunteer our service.
The vehicles are at work in two areas.
The Sleep Train Arena (STA), the former NBA arena previously home to the Sacramento Kings, is one of the facilities housing up to 400 COVID-19 patients, where the R2 is doing contactless delivery of medical supplies for patients.
The Event Center in San Mateo County also has been converted into a testing facility and field hospital. The R2 vehicles are transporting food, water and other supplies on an as-needed basis.
While practical uses like this are being found for vehicles not requiring human-to-human interactions, those that carry people aren’t faring so well under the pandemic spotlight.
Earlier this week, General Motor announced it was shutting down its Maven car-sharing service.
Also, all the self-driving vehicle trials that involve human passengers are in limbo, waiting out the pandemic.
The question is whether they can or will come back and in what form.
Meanwhile, vehicles like the R2, initially targeted to grocery deliveries, are finding practical uses today.