Imagine the following. You’re packing for a business trip, your flight is leaving in a couple of hours. You realize you’re nearly out of insulin to control your diabetes. 

Not a problem, you think. You whip out your smartphone and relay your urgent need to the online pharmacy via their app. Within 20 minutes you get alert: your meds have arrived. You go outside and spot the delivery vehicle. You unlock its door via your phone. There on the passenger seat are your medications. You almost thank the driver, then remember there is no driver ﹘ this is a self-driving vehicle. You laugh softly, take your meds, and head back inside. Behind you, the crossover’s electric motor hums as it prepares to make its next delivery.

Sounds like something from a science-fiction movie? It’s actually a goal by automakers like The Hyundai Motor Group to bring to reality. 

NowRX, Hyundai’s Autonomous Delivery Plans

The Korean automaker announced last month it is partnering with startup NowRX Pharmacy. NowRX is an online pharmacy – it offers to fill prescription medications for same-day delivery. For comparison, brick-and-mortar pharmacies like CVS or Walgreen can take several days to even weeks to process and deliver an order to a patient’s doorstep.

NowRX accomplishes this incredible task through “QuickFill,” its proprietary system which processes and dispenses orders under 30 seconds. According to company executives, the automated system has far fewer errors than typical big-chain pharmacies while doing so at a fraction of the price tag. 

Medical box PC is built to handle pharmacy's unique requirements.
Medical box PC is built to handle pharmacy’s unique requirements.

Regular pharmacies act as “micro-fulfilment” centers for NowRX orders. They most likely use a medical box PC (pictured) or something similar to do so. Such a device minimizes the chance of contamination by bacteria and other pathogens thanks to such features as an antibacterial housing and fanless design.

Deliveries are done through NowRX’s own fleet of drivers. The number of stops each one makes varies from six to 15. Routes are manually created for maximum speed of delivery. Compare that to large pharmacy chains which deliver through regular mail services like USPS, which can take days or weeks. 

NowRX is looking to automate these deliveries. This is where Hyundai comes in. According to the press release, it will provide Ioniq 5 electric vehicles crossovers to the startup through its Innovation Division, which handles cutting edge technologies like self-driving vehicles and EVs. 

The provided crossovers to be used by NowRX will not be autonomous. Instead, drivers will be behind the wheel in each one, gathering information on the effectiveness of autonomous vehicles in the pharmaceutical delivery area. This can range from delivery statistics to customer feedback. Points out Minsung Kim, vice president of the Hyundai Motor Group and Head of the Open Innovation Strategy Team: “The Group expects this collaboration with NowRx to help expand our mobility business model beyond the anticipated industry. We believe a new opportunity with the technologically innovative e-pharmacy NowRx, that uniquely integrates pharmacy management and delivery service, supports our movement toward Smart Mobility Solutions Provider.”

NowRx adds that if this pilot program with Hyundai goes well, it will look to move up to fully autonomous vehicles sometime in the future.

Automakers Drive in Healthcare (and Vice Versa)

Hyundai’s use of its autonomous vehicles to deliver health care is not unique. Automakers have actually been involved in the segment for some time. Their systems and programs usually fall under such names as in-car wellbeing; in-car telehealth; and health, wellness, and wellbeing (HWW). Note that, conceptually, these vehicle healthcare systems are not that different from hospice “smart homes” which use various devices to keep an eye on the residents. In this case, it’s the vehicle itself that’s both the home and the devices.

Take Ford for example. In 2011, the US automaker announced it was developing a car seat that could monitor a driver’s heart rate. Drivers experiencing things like dizziness, fatigue, or even heart attacks could then react accordingly and thus minimize crashes and fatalities. Toyota would later unveil a similar system that used its vehicles’ steering wheels. Rugged mini PCs, with their ignition system and industrial grade design, were most likely used in both systems to withstand the punishing conditions in a typical drive.

Also that year, Ford partnered with device manufacturer Medtronic and chronic care management company Welldoc. Both healthcare companies provided a means for diabetic patients to monitor their blood sugar levels while on the road. That information is relayed through Ford SYNC’s infotainment system. 

“The car has rapidly evolved into a mobile office and entertainment center for many Americans,” said Dr. K. Venkatesh Prasad, group and technical leader at Ford’s Infotronics Research & Innovation team. “Our goal is to further innovate the automotive space by incorporating health and wellness services into the car, thereby making them convenient and easily accessible to our customers – all while keeping their safety in mind. Delivering real-time in-vehicle health management services is a revolutionary concept that we are proud to spearhead with WellDoc, a pioneer in the mobile health space.”

The current status of all these technologies vary. Ford quietly shelved the car seat project in 2013. It pointed out that today’s wearables already provide similar information and with greater accuracy. And there have been no major updates on either insulin monitoring systems since their announcements.

Closing Thoughts 

Hyundai’s partnering with online pharmacy NowRX is but the latest example of the auto industry’s long relationship with the healthcare industry. If your automotive company is looking to tap this little known but vital opportunity, contact a representative from Cybernet. Also follow Cybernet on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin to stay up to date on this and other relevant topics.