Coronavirus: South Bay company uses delivery robots to help health care workers battle COVID-19

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A South Bay robotics company recognized it had a self-driving vehicle that could provide logistical support to the many makeshift treatment centers created to handle COVID-19 cases. The response was enthusiastic.

Meet R2, a self-driving vehicle, pressed into service to support COVID-19 care.

Mountain View based Nuro designed it originally for outdoor package delivery. However, its creators realized it could be a valuable tool to support medical teams once it replaced its touch-screen panel with contactless control.

"You can basically give a thumbs up," explained Nuro co-founder and president Dave Ferguson. "If you give a thumbs up, the doors will open if they're closed, and if they're open and you give a thumbs up, they'll close."

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The R2 is supporting two medical facilities, one at the San Mateo Event Center, and the other at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.

It quietly delivers linens and medical supplies, moving down aisles filled with patient cots. The vehicle was designed for use outdoors on roads and in parking lots, but indoors, its size has turned out to be ideal for a hospital setting.

"The space you generally provide in hospitals tends to be dictated by the width of a gurney," noted Ferguson. "You know you want to get a gurney through there, but you don't necessarily need to get much, anything much bigger than that. It turns out our R2 vehicle is roughly the width of a hospital gurney."

Nuro anticipates its R2 will be ideal for other contactless delivery users, such as grocery and drug stores. It already has partnerships with Walmart and Dominos.

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For now, Nuro's team of 630 employees are happy to be supporting front line health workers at a slightly slower speed.

"We're not driving 25 mph down the middle of the hospital ward so with that reduced speed, everything becomes a little bit easier," Ferguson said.

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