Ultimate social distancing: Self-driving cars used to donate food during pandemic

white self-driving vehicle
One of the vehicles used by Brookfield Properties. (Courtesy Optimus Ride)

Using what could be the ultimate form of social distancing, the real estate company developing The Yards on the Anacostia River waterfront is helping families in Southeast D.C. who are struggling with food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.

“In the early days of the pandemic, we sort of dreamed up this initiative,” said Sunil Seelamsetty, a vice president with the company Brookfield Properties.

Working with the company Optimus Ride, Brookfield put together an effort to use self-driving vehicles to deliver boxes of nutritious food and groceries to families in need.

In the coming weeks, the program is expected to feed thousands of people.

“We wanted to showcase the value of this technology in an era of social distancing while still providing critical community services,” said Seelamsetty.

“We’ll be able to source and deliver over 5,000 meals direct to the homes of our neighbors.”

The so-called “One-Week Boxes” that are being delivered provide three adult meals per day for seven days.

They were developed by two local organizations: the Neighborhood Restaurant Group and the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture.

“We’re thankful to be able to provide much-needed, nutritious meals to our neighbors in Southeast D.C.,” said Michael Babin, founder of Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

“Everyone has been hit in different ways by this pandemic, and worrying about putting food on the table during this time should not be one of them.”


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The boxes contain fresh produce, proteins and grains, as well as products that are ready to eat, such as homemade chicken soup.

“This lives at the intersection of real estate, philanthropy and innovation,” Seelamsetty said.

Eventually, after the coronavirus pandemic passes, The Yards plans to use the Optimus Ride self-driving vehicles to transport people as well as packages and groceries.

The Yards is a development on the Southeast D.C. waterfront, featuring apartments, retailers, offices and restaurants.

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