Last April, Wing became the U.S.’ first drone operator to be FAA-certified as an air carrier, and in October it rolled out a test delivery program in the rural town of Christiansburg, Virginia (USA). Deliveries have more than doubled in the area, Wing says. The company has partnered with FedEx and Walgreens, and has added a local bakery, Mockingbird Cafe.
"We're trying to support local businesses that aren't able to open their doors by allowing them to deliver their products directly to customers' homes," Wing said. It pointed to a local bakery in Christiansburg, Virginia, which is now selling 50% more pastries via Wing on one weekend than it usually sells in store.
Social distancing and the need to isolate ourselves has fueled massive demand for delivery. Restaurants are re-tooling to serve take-away in place of sit-down. Uber and Lift are shifting drivers away from carrying passengers (who are not traveling) to help delivery comestibles and even pharmacy orders. Gig workers quickly have emerged as frontline responders, often driving people to the hospital or delivering food to those who have been quarantined, such as the elderly, disabled, or ill.
The San Antonio-based company Xenex has been deploying UV disinfection robots to keep up with coronavirus-fueled demand. The company’s flagship product, the LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robot, is a four-wheeled unit with a long, lantern-like tower mounted on it. This "bot" automates the cleaning process, using pulsing xenon lamps that quickly knock out germs lingering in a room’s corners and surfaces.
Xenex’s robots are already in more than 500 hospitals around the world — including Italy, Spain, Japan and the United Kingdom — and that number is growing daily due to the coronavirus outbreak. Specialized cleaner robots, like those made by Xenex and others, are more useful than ever right now. They not only help hospitals reduce coronavirus transmission from surfaces, their work also frees up staff to spend more time focusing on tasks that require a human element — attending to sick patients, for instance.
There will be growing scenarios for curb-to-door robots. Such autonomous vehicles could roll up to a household for patient testing, garbage collection, and sanitizing services. One of the added benefits of such a tiered approach to delivery automation is that robots can also be tasked with safely delivering testing kits, then collecting test samples from quarantined populations. This is a logistical challenge for local, state, and federal agencies. Community and landlord-operated robots could also be tasked with collecting and disposing of garbage from quarantined households in a manner that would limit unnecessary exposure and contamination.
But such work still exposes human workers to the threat of contracting COVID-19, among other health risks. Here is an opportunity for coronavirus-immune alternatives like autonomous vehicles and drones to prove they can save the day.