Before mandatory masks in public spaces, toilet paper shortages, and emergency orders to shelter-in-place—Cruise’s fleet of self-driving vehicles were used primarily to shuttle engineers and employees between campuses and other locations in the Bay Area. The autonomous technology start-up paused its testing program and idled vehicles last month when employees began working from home due to covid-19, but recently it revived a portion of the fleet to serve the greater community.
Cruise announced today that it’s working with the SF-Marin Food Bank and SF New Deal to deliver meals to local recipients. The program began on April 16, and in the eight days that they’ve been called upon by the non-profits to assist them, they’ve delivered more than 1,200 contactless deliveries to low-income, senior citizens from the food bank, and 2,500 meals from local restaurants to several organizations that serve the San Francisco area.
“The impact that Cruise’s support has had on SF New Deals operations has been tremendous. Cruise has provided delivery support to several sites that we are serving in collaboration with UCSF’s Division of Citywide Case Management, Tenderloin Housing Clinic, The San Francisco African American Faith BasedAlliance, the City of San Francisco’s Human rights Commission,” says Lenore Estrada, SF New Deal Executive Director.
Cruise is one of several meal delivery services that are able to operate in the city as an “essential service” during the coronavirus pandemic by delivering meals to vulnerable residents unable to leave their home. Owned by General Motors GM, the company says that it heard from community partners that the demand for food was soaring during the emergency orders to stay home and food pantries required additional delivery support to meet this increased need to support vulnerable populations across the city.
“We had a fleet of all-electric, self-driving cars just sitting around–we thought this was a great way to put them to good use,” the company explained in an email to the press.
However, they’re not being compensated for their services. This emergency program uses volunteers and autonomous test vehicle operators (ATVO) outfitted with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) that have opted in to this program to facilitate contactless meal delivery. By offering use of their all-electric AVs, they’re freeing up the meal assistance groups’ resources and funds that would have otherwise been spent on gasoline and other transportation-related costs.
“The volunteers who have been freed up by the delivery resources Cruise is providing are now able to redirect their efforts to provide more support directly to our partner organizations, bring PPE to partner sites and restaurants, and seek out more sources of funding to provide even more meals to our neighbors in need here in San Francisco,” says Estrada. “The support Cruise has provided has been crucial in allowing us to expand our services, including the number of restaurants we are serving, the number of meals we are providing, and the number of partner organizations we are able to work with.”
Cruise is using only a portion of the 200 vehicles in its self-driving fleet for this community program, but it has plans to scale depending on demand.