Video: Self-driving cars find use in challenging times

Categorised as nonessential businesses, some self-driving car companies are now back on the roads — making deliveries and testing their technology.

Editor’s note:
The following is a transcript of the accompanying video. ©2020 Thomson Reuters. Courtesy Camille Servan-Schreiber/NURO Digital.

It’s a marriage of two organisations in need during these challenging times: a San Francisco Bay Area food bank overwhelmed with deliveries, and a driverless car company at a virtual standstill as a nonessential business.

But since mid-April, the two have worked together to great effect, with autonomous car company Cruise — owned by General Motors — helping to make those much-needed deliveries to those sheltering in place.

“What I do see is this pandemic really showing where self-driving vehicles and the technology we're building can be of use in the future."

That’s Rob Grant, vice-president of public policy for Cruise, whose cars are now helping with food deliveries — the side benefit being that Cruise can continue to test the cars’ safety and reliability when most other vehicles are off the roads.

Grant said: "These operations are not geared towards advancing our testing suite. They are really geared at making sure that we're providing the most benefit to the community. That being said, it is incumbent while we're out there to ensure that our vehicles are operating in a safe manner, that they are continually learning and adjusting to what we see on the street."

Toyota-backed also has its cars on California roads after an initial pause — to help deliver groceries from local e-commerce platform Yamibuy.

And in April SoftBank-backed Nuro said it’s putting its latest vehicles to work delivering medical supplies to two northern California facilities.

None of the car companies make money for these services, but in addition to helping those in need, are gathering invaluable data and real-world experience.