It's a possible solution for social distancing... but not very practical.
Cockpit of Tesla Model S car
Credit: mbbirdy/Getty Images

It’s April Fools’ Day, and thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, no one seems to be in the pranking mood. (Personally, I think we can chalk that up as a silver lining.) But just because the coronavirus has made life difficult, doesn’t mean we can’t have any fun. Last week, YouTuber Nick Lumarque took that to heart combining our newfound reliance on drive-thrus and our requirement to practice social distancing into a silly social experiment: Could Tesla owners avoid human contact by using the car’s driverless technology to send it through a drive-thru?

“So as you guys know, the whole world is currently on quarantine due to the coronavirus,” Lumarque says in the intro to his video. “I’m going to stay clean, not come within six feet of any humans, snd have this Tesla do all that for me.”

Lumarque tried his experiment at a bunch of fast food chains including Starbucks and KFC. The gist: He rolled down the window, attached money to the side-view mirror with a pipe cleaner, taped a sign to the door that read “Keep the change! Toss food into car! Thanks, Tesla,” and then ran the vehicle through the drive-thru with a smartphone by using Tesla’s “summon” feature which allows the car to slowly move forward and backward in a straight line.

Lumarque admitted he’s not the only one to have tried this stunt. He personally thanks Ryan Trahan who garnered over 6 million views back in December doing basically the same thing. And the site InsideEVs found a different video from earlier this year. However, Lumarque does appear to be the first person to try it with a topical coronavirus spin, which makes it that much more intriguing.

And yet, though Lumarque’s experiment is enjoyable to watch, the results are definitely more of an “empty Tesla prank,” as he puts it, than a genuine solution for social distancing. The primary problem—beyond the confusion of drive-thru staff—is that the arms of a driver are necessary to cover the distance from the car to the drive-thru window. In one case, the worker couldn’t reach the money. In another, a restaurant employee missed tossing the bag into the car, watching as the food plopped to the ground. And then, at Starbucks, well, yeah—you definitely don’t want your barista throwing a Frappuccino cup through your car window no matter how tight the lid is on.

That said, the experiment did work in some instances. Things appeared to run flawlessly on a very simple order for a cookie. And it also worked when the restaurant employees left their post to walk outside and deal with the car directly. But when it didn’t work, as far as social distancing is concerned, the whole thing backfires because Lumarque has to approach the window on foot to get his order, bringing him even closer to the staff.

But coronavirus aside, this and other videos do prove that, yes, eventually, driverless drive-thrus are possible. In fact, the technology of driverless cars seems inevitable; if anything, it’s the drive-thrus that need to be tweaked to better handle these driver-free interactions.