One look at the headlines is all it takes to confirm the obvious. The novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has completely upended society, and the automotive industry has been left tumbling in its wake. As General Motors races to reconfigure a production facility in Indiana to produce new life-saving ventilator equipment, one has to wonder – how could technology help us lessen the impact of a future pandemic? Could autonomous vehicle tech like Cruise Origin play a role in curbing the spread of dangerous, infectious diseases?
It’s an interesting thought experiment, and considering the benefits that autonomous vehicles have to offer, it certainly seems possible. Driverless taxis like Cruise Origin could fill in for public transportation during an ongoing pandemic, providing services when large gatherings of people should be avoided. With just a few riders on board, rather than the masses of people typically seen on a bus or train, the transmission rate could be significantly slowed. Add in the cost savings of autonomous vehicles, and the services could be affordable as well, or even made free in times of crisis.
What’s more, without a driver onboard, there’s one less person to infect, and riders could completely self-isolate by taking a ride solo. Another possibility would be using driverless vehicles to quickly transport patients, supplies, and equipment without risking exposure to a driver.
Autonomous vehicles could take things even further by tracking who is going where and who they are with. Granted, this raises questions over privacy, but in this particular thought experiment, let’s stay objective and simply look at the possible benefits that autonomous vehicles could provide.
For example, what if a driverless taxi came equipped with sensors that could read a rider’s skin temperature and respiration rate, or used microphones to record excessive coughing or sneezing? A system like that could recognize symptoms and flag the vehicle as contaminated, sending it in for cleaning before rejoining public circulation.
At the same time, we have to consider the vulnerability of autonomous vehicles with regard to reliance on public utilities. If the electrical grid falls, or there’s disruption in the information network, that fleet of driverless taxis could suddenly become useless. Throw a deadly pandemic on top, and the result could be disaster.
Regardless, autonomous vehicles do present some interesting benefits. What do you think, dear reader? Let us know in the comments, and make sure to subscribe to GM Authority for ongoing GM news coverage.