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Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states…

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Reviewed byRachael Brennan
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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2020

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COVID-19 has spread around the world, affecting nearly every country, state, province, and city. Many people are out of work, and those with jobs have been told to stay home and work remotely. COVID-19 has had some benefits, however, like causing fatal crash rates to drop significantly since there are fewer people out driving.

In the midst of the greatest economic shutdown the world has ever seen, when citizens are ordered to stay inside and it seems like we can’t go outside of our homes to do anything, it’s easy to see we’re in a difficult situation.

However, one Chinese company is making a difference by showing how technology can combat the spread of coronavirus, one delivery van at a time.

What are driverless delivery vehicles?

Driverless delivery vehicles are exactly what you’d think — autonomous vans capable of delivering anything from food and medicine to toys and car parts. They’re being used for essential supplies and services during the crisis. Their sharp uptick in demand has highlighted their usefulness both presently and in the future.

Driverless delivery vehicles have some advantages over their driverless passenger car counterparts. Since they’re delivering goods and supplies rather than transporting people, they only have to worry about the safety of humans around them.

This means they can limit themselves to much slower speeds than a human would allow. It also makes the ethics of an autonomous vehicle easier. When faced with a situation where the car must choose between pedestrians or their cargo, autonomous delivery vehicles can choose themselves without question.

Autonomous delivery vehicles also tend to carry less cargo, making them lighter on the road, and as a result, saving power, money, and fuel.

Driverless delivery vehicles also don’t have to worry about maintaining roadside assistance coverage in the event of a breakdown.

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What role do driverless delivery vehicles play during COVID-19?

Self-driving cars are now helping people affected by COVID-19. Several large companies have deployed fleets of self-driving vans to transport food and medical supplies to those in need around China and the hardest-hit areas by COVID-19. The vans can deliver food, drink, medicine, and even disinfect city streets.

After seeing how useful self-driving technology can be in the midst of a global health crisis, the Chinese government has issued a 60 percent discount on the vans.

Typically, delivery drivers would have to operate cars and trucks, carrying crucial supplies around the country. Paying human drivers is obviously more expensive than a robot, but there are some other significant benefits during a pandemic.

Drivers who would typically be exposed to the virus (and thus potentially spreading it) can stay home. They don’t have to worry about sanitizing everything in their car — from the ceiling to the floor mats — just to protect themselves, their families, and their customers.

Driverless delivery vans are playing a huge role in the Chinese COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully more companies are working on autonomous delivery vehicles in the United States as well as around the world.

Driverless Delivery Van Demand Increase

As most companies in China and abroad are facing supply shortages and other problems after demand has virtually come to a halt, Neolix, the Chinese company producing driverless delivery vans, has actually seen a steep uptick in demand.

The start-up only had produced 125 vans since its inception in May of last year, but due to stay-at-home orders, Neolix has received an influx in new orders. With more than 200 additional vehicles ordered in the last few weeks alone, Neolix expects to produce more than 1,000 vans by the end of 2020 and more than 100,000 units within five years.

Neolix has some prominent investors including Alibaba Group and Meituan Dianping, two enormous Chinese companies. In the wake of COVID-19 ravaging the global economy and placing our essential workers in danger, the value and need of autonomous delivery has come to fruition.

Autonomous delivery vans are helping people stay home, safe, and healthy.

The world was already moving towards self-driving cars — especially in our supply chain — but coronavirus has sped up the adoption of these vehicles exponentially. With remote work becoming more popular, it’s likely many companies will allow at least some of their employees to remain remote, even after the lockdowns are lifted.

When things finally go back to “normal,” it seems like driverless delivery vehicles may be here to stay as well.

What can driverless delivery vehicles deliver?

Originally, Neolix delivery vans were made to be portable vending machines, carrying things you’d typically buy in a traditional vending machine, like snacks and drinks.

But now, the versatility of these vans is being utilized in China. They are bringing free masks to the citizens of China’s hardest-hit cities, medical supplies to the mobile hospitals that were built to treat COVID-19 patients, and other things that would typically be delivered by a human.

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Driverless Vehicles are Here to Stay

The use of driverless vehicles, particularly for use in our supply chains, was already forecasted to increase over the next ten years.

Now that the utility of driverless delivery vans has been brought to light in the midst of COVID-19, accelerating their adoption has come at an incredible speed.

Self-driving vehicles are now bringing essential supplies to those who need it most and keeping delivery people safe from harm (or out of work, depending on your perspective.)

Considering Neolix’s significant increase in demand, and other countries around the world designing their own versions of Neolix’s delivery vans, it’s safe to say the adoption rate of driverless delivery vehicles is going to skyrocket.

Although they probably won’t be used to carry crucial medical supplies once this is all over, it seems like driverless delivery vans are here to stay, especially in China and the rest of the western world as well.