|Delivery's time to shine?|
The coronavirus has wrought significant changes across the transportation landscape. Among them: a renewed focus on using autonomous-driving technology for delivery services.
On April 7, self-driving startup Nuro received a permit to test its driverless delivery vehicles on certain California roads.
Now comes the Yandex Rover.
On Wednesday, Russian tech titan Yandex launched a commercial rollout of its Rover delivery robot. The company deployed the six-wheeled sidewalk vehicle, which is about as big as a cooler, in Skolkovo, a tech-minded suburb of Moscow. It's the first deployment of the Rover, which began road testing in November, outside the company's private campuses.
Employees of city offices will be the first to use the app-based delivery service, and the Rovers will travel "several kilometers" between buildings on public sidewalks. Along these trips, the Rover will meet pedestrians, cross streets and encounter other obstacles.
"We designed Yandex Rover to help people automate routine delivery of small packages," wrote Dmitry Polishchuk, head of Yandex's self-driving efforts. "In the future, together with the Skolkovo team, we will consider how else our robot can help optimize tasks in the city."
With consumers sheltering in place and fearful of trips to pick up takeout from their favorite restaurants or excursions to the grocery store, an increasing number of people are using human-based delivery services for the first time.
As these services potentially transition toward autonomous delivery in the years ahead, one aspect to note is the form factor. Neither Nuro nor Yandex use traditional passenger vehicles. In fact, Nuro won the first-ever exemption granted by the U.S. Department of Transportation to launch vehicles that don't conform to certain federal motor vehicle safety standards.
Nuro's smaller vehicles are tailored for driving on public roads, whereas Yandex and others are examining the sidewalk as a potential delivery surface. How these new delivery vehicles develop and where they deploy remain intriguing questions without firm answers.
But as COVID-19 is accelerating use of delivery services, now is a great time to start asking them.
-- Pete Bigelow