I have to admit, while this story is very interesting and engaging, there’s a lot of missing details going on here. It’s not a complicated story: essentially, a woman named Chen Tao from Jinan, Shandong Province in China wanted to get some steamed buns from a nearby store, but she didn’t want to risk exposure to the coronavirus by leaving her house. So, she did something very clever: she sent a remote control car, equipped with some cameras, a loudspeaker, and a cargo box, to the store instead. It’s cool, but is it real?

There’s video of the car’s little journey, and it sure looks like it’s doing it:

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The RC car looks a bit like a scale model of a Land Rover Defender, and it’s pulling a little trailer with a cardboard box on it. There’s three cameras mounted to the car: two on the roof (one seems to be facing forward, one back) and a higher one on a mast at the back of the trailer. There seems to be video feeds from both.

I suppose those could all be internet-enabled webcams, streaming live video?

The woman wrote her phone number on the box to handle payment, and used some sort of speaker to ask for help from the store’s security guard. According to the New York Post, this was their exchange:

“Can you please help me call the shop owner?” Chen can be heard saying in Chinese.

The guard replies, “I will fill the box up, OK? I put [the steamed buns] at the back.”

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Now, the store is said to be about a quarter mile from the woman’s home. Does an RC car have that sort of range? It looks like it’s possible, or it could be modified to be possible, to get about one kilometer or just over a half mile of range from an RC car.

So, maybe this is possible, though I imagine that city has a lot of WiFi and other radio signals bouncing around that could cause interference, but who knows? I guess that could work?

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Then there’s the loudspeaker question—was there a phone on the car that she was calling and talking through? None of the cameras appear to be cellphones, so there had to be some kind of phone on there, which she had already called and put on speaker.

I think this is likely technically possible, but everything seems to be working remarkably well—the video she’d use to drive isn’t laggy, the car remains controllable the whole time—perhaps I’m just not used to my projects working so well?

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Also, her name—Chen Tao—is also the name of an old Taiwanese UFO cult, so that made me a little curious, too. Still, it may just be a common name.

Maybe she tested and developed the hell out of this thing and it really is as seamless as it looks. It’s a very fun little project regardless, and it also reveals some positive things about her community’s willingness to cooperate and help out this little remotely-driven car to get some steamed buns.

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And, she’s doing what she’s supposed to in these kind of viral situations, avoiding outside contact, so, what the hell, let’s just believe it and congratulate this very clever woman and her resourceful way to get some treats safely.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)

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