In what is being hailed “the ultimate form of social distancing”, a trio of autonomous cars are set to begin delivering thousands of meals to families suffering from food insecurity in Washington DC.
Optimus Rides, a startup that specializes in developing driverless vehicles for urban transportation, has announced that they will be deploying three of their cars for contactless grocery deliveries to low-income households in Southeast DC.
The initiative, which is being spearheaded by real estate company Brookfield Properties, is expected to deliver 5,000 meals every week. The meals are being doled out in the form of “One-Week Boxes” containing enough nutritious ready-made meals and ingredients to feed an adult three times a day for seven days at a time.
According to Venture Beat, the meals are being sent to at-risk recipients identified by homelessness nonprofit Pathways to Housing and to the local Van Ness Elementary School.
Although the cars will require disinfection in between each use, the project is expected to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, Optimus Rides had been developing their autonomous vehicle operations in The Yards neighborhood of DC with the aim of one day offering transportation services to the residents—but until the outbreaks subside, the startup has been using their driverless cars to deliver essential items to communities with high risk of infection.
“Our strategy has proven to be highly tractable, as Optimus Ride is one of the first commercially operational self-driving technology companies in the world, with deployments in Maryland, California, Virginia, and New York,” reads an Optimus Ride blog post. “While our initial focus has been on moving passengers, we also developed an initial pilot for self-driving delivery of pharmaceuticals. Our goal at the time was to identify efficiency opportunities during off-peak hours, but in doing so we found a strong and positive response, particularly from our senior community members.
“Along with many other companies and institutions, we have been closely monitoring the pandemic from its early days through its global spread. In keeping with guidance from health and state officials, we transitioned the company from optional work-from-home to mandatory. On Monday, March 15th, we mutually decided with our partners to pause passenger operations in all of our sites … It was the responsible thing to do considering the situation.
“After pausing operations at … [a California nursing home], we received an urgent request from their management to assist with evening meal delivery as residents were no longer allowed to congregate in the dining hall. Our team sprang into action, and after some rapid planning, preparation and taking all possible precautions, we adapted our services for meal delivery. On that evening we delivered 46 meals, and since then have continued delivering 50-80 meals per day.
“It is responses like these that have made our team feel our work is more meaningful than ever, and we will continue with our meal deliveries for [the nursing home] while the situation is still ongoing.”
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