AV shuttle for COVID-19 tests (Mayo Clinic/YouTube)

Autonomous vehicles deliver COVID-19 tests to lab

As the coronavirus pandemic puts extra strain on health care resources and personnel, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is testing the delivery of COVID-19 tests to processing labs via autonomous vehicles.

Traveling across the Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus, the unmanned AVs ferry the tests from a drive-thru clinic to a processing lab. The COVID-19 test samples are placed in secure containers, and then Mayo Clinic health care professionals load the samples onto the shuttle for delivery to the lab, reducing the number of scarce and overextended health workers required to get the tests processed.

The independent state transit agency is partnering with French company NAVYA, which manufactures the machine-learning powered shuttles; autonomous shuttle fleet service provider Beep; Bestmile, a fleet orchestration and optimization software company; and the Mayo Clinic to evaluate the vehicles’ performance as they navigate the medical campus on routes isolated from pedestrians and other traffic. The service will be closely monitored from a mobile command center to ensure its safe operation.

“Using cutting edge autonomous vehicle technology” helps protect medical workers from exposure to the virus and ”frees up staff time that can be dedicated to direct treatment and care for patients,” Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. Kent Thielen said.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has been testing autonomous vehicle technology since 2017 as it prepares to convert the Jacksonville Skyway automated people mover in downtown Jacksonville into a network powered by autonomous vehicles.

"Our innovative team saw this as an opportunity to use technology to respond to this crisis in Northeast Florida and increase the safety of COVID-19 testing," Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nathaniel P. Ford, Sr said.

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