Published in Transportation

Self-driving vans used to move COVID-19 tests

by on07 April 2020

Drivers can’t get sick

Autonomous shuttles are being used to move COVID-19 tests from a Jacksonville, Florida testing site to a nearby Mayo Clinic processing location, in what the medical nonprofit is calling a "first" for the US.

During each run made to and from the clinic, the self-driving shuttles are being trailed by an SUV driven by a human but they are at least keeping more than a meter away.

One of the Mayo Clinic workers loads the cooler of tests onto the self-driving shuttle. The SUV then follows the shuttle across the Mayo Clinic's campus, where the batch of fresh tests is swapped for another cooler.

Four of these vehicles have made the same run back and forth each day since 30 March.

In a statement provided to The Verge, Joe Moye, the CEO of autonomous vehicle operator Beep, said the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is providing the chase vehicles to "ensure no traffic or pedestrians would potentially impact the delivery path of the COVID-19 samples and supplies".

The Mayo Clinic's press release says the routes the shuttles are running "are isolated from pedestrians, traffic and staff".

A representative for Beep, which worked with the Mayo Clinic, JTA, and self-driving shuttle builder Navya on the pilot, says that putting the tests in the attendant-less shuttle instead of in an SUV or truck being driven by a human helps limit any potential exposure to the novel coronavirus.

It does look like using some sort of vehicle -- autonomous or not -- would indeed help speed up the delivery of the tests to the processing site. Another benefit, according to Moye, is that the shuttle helps keep many Mayo Clinic staff as free as possible, since they would otherwise have to transport the samples themselves.


Last modified on 07 April 2020
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