April 21, 2020   |   Updated: November 11, 2020

Essential services like the transporting of goods must continue under COVID-19 social distancing protocols in order for us to receive life-sustaining products, such as food and medical supplies.

IEEE Senior Member Ming Liu and a team of engineers at his technology startup have developed a solution that can help reduce in-person transmission of the virus through the use of an autonomous vehicle named Hercules.

“Many daily activities such as transporting goods inevitably involve person-to-person contact,” explains Liu. “To achieve contact-less transportation of goods, using an autonomous vehicle has become the preferred choice.”


How Autonomous Delivery Vehicles Run

Hercules is designed with autonomous navigation capability and a variety of hardware technologies including a Drive-by-Wire (DBW) chassis, an Industrial Personal Computer (IPC) and sensors.

A Vehicle Control Unit (VCU) responds to critical safety signals including stop signs and other road signals, explains Liu. Sensors are also installed in the bumper and tires to avoid collisions on the road.

Hercules knows how to get to its destination through the use of a software platform in the cloud. “The map server stores the pre-built map for the traversed environments,” explains Liu. “A scheduling server performs the task allocations and collects the status of every registered running vehicle. It also plays the role of accessing the map data for routing, transmitting sensor data into the map server, recording the key information into the log server, and replaying the data recorded for a good trace-back.” This information keeps Hercules and others safe while it navigates.

Liu’s autonomous vehicle is already navigating busy urban streets in various cities across China and delivering fresh vegetables to residential areas, boxed meals from restaurants and spray disinfectants to hospitals.

“We have been serving over 1,000 km during this period by delivering vegetables to confined areas without people-to-people contact,” says Liu. “We also help deliver food to check points and help with disinfection
for hospital areas.”

Liu’s startup has hired 100 employees and is preparing to put its assembly line into high gear in the next several months in order for autonomous vehicles like Hercules to become more accessible across the globe, reports IEEE Spectrum.

Technology has once again bridged the gap of connection to provide and maintain essential services while continuing to keep us safe and at a distance.


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