Washington, D.C., is not only the nation’s capital, full of marble monuments and government buildings, but it is also home to people living in “food deserts” without easy access to affordable, healthy meals, especially during the novel coronavirus crisis. The Yards, a waterfront development, announced yesterday that it has partnered with Optimus Ride Inc. to deliver food to families struggling with food insecurity in Southeast DC. Optimus Ride’s autonomous vehicles will provide a direct and contact-free way to provide nutritious meals, said the companies.
Boston-based Optimus Ride is developing self-driving vehicles for geo-fenced environments. It was spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and said it leverages more than 30 years of interdisciplinary research in autonomous technologies, electric vehicles, and mobility systems. Partly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Optimus Ride has pivoted from ride-sharing services to point-to-point transportation for people in retirement communities and to food deliveries.
Global real estate company Brookfield Properties, which manages more than $540 billion in assets, is building The Yards in the capital’s Navy Yard district. The development will include retail and services, a waterfront park, a hotel, and residential space across about 25 buildings on 45 acres. Brookfield Properties said it is interested in both innovation and sustainability, and the initiative to help underprivileged neighbors is part of that concern.
The Yards, Optimus Ride team up with support organizations
The Yards and Optimus Ride said they will deliver meals prepared at Bluejacket. The “One-Week Boxes” were developed by Neighborhood Restaurant Group and the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. They consist of enough prepared foods and raw ingredients to support a full week’s worth of meals for an individual on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.
The families receiving the food were identified by Pathways to Housing DC, an organization aimed at ending homelessness and supporting recovery for people with complex health challenges, as well as families in need at Van Ness Elementary School, a neighbor of The Yards. Three autonomous vehicles will help distribute boxes to the identified families on a weekly basis, serving a total of 5,000 meals.
“We are excited to introduce Optimus Ride to The Yards, where we will be able to use their technology to support our neighboring communities that are struggling to safely secure healthy food for their families during this time,” stated Greg Meyer, executive vice president at Brookfield Properties.
“For our Pathways’ clients living in supportive housing and on such limited financial resources, the partnership with Brookfield Properties and local restaurants is a lifeline for our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Christy Respress, executive director of Pathways to Housing DC.
“As we started distance learning, it quickly became clear that before we could engage our students academically, it was important for them to have their most basic needs met, and many families let us know they needed support with food and groceries,” said Cynthia Robinson-Rivers, head of school at Van Ness Elementary.
“We’re thankful to be able to provide much-needed, nutritious meals to our neighbors in Southeast DC,” said Michael Babin, principal at 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.”
Optimus Ride expands services
Optimus Ride’s system at The Yards is its second initiative with Brookfield Properties in the Washington, D.C., area. Last summer, Optimus Ride deployed its self-driving system at Halley Rise, Brookfield Properties’ 3.5 million-sq.-ft. mixed-use development in Reston, Va. To date, Optimus Ride has given over 41,000 rides at Halley Rise.
“Optimus Ride is highly motivated to be deploying our second self-driving system with Brookfield Properties in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area,” said Ryan Chin, CEO of Optimus Ride. “We have the opportunity with this partnership to provide essential logistics such as delivery of prepared foods, groceries, and packages during and after the pandemic to Brookfield’s tenants and other local businesses.”
The Yards to get both logistics and passenger services
For The Yards, Optimus Ride said it has designed, built, and started operating self-driving systems that has both logistics and passenger capacity. The current system is supervised by trained staff and engineers while the vehicles learn the different routes around The Yards.
The operation will begin by providing essential logistics services for transporting prepared foods and groceries — initially for nonprofit meals. It will eventually expand to commercial food-delivery services for the tenants at The Yards and transition to people-moving as COVID-19 subsides, said Optimus Ride. The company added that its system integrates a new logistics vertical critical for restaurants, retailers, and other businesses in order to safely serve their community during and after the pandemic.
“We look forward to growing the Optimus Ride system to support the residents, tenants, and neighbors of The Yards,” said Meyer.
“This new market vertical of logistics augments our people-moving system capabilities that we have built over the last five years as the leader in geofenced self-driving technology markets,” Chin said.