Overworked and understaffed, America’s healthcare workers have had to think outside the box to receive necessary medical supplies to combat the novel coronavirus crisis while minimizing its spread. Thanks to a partnership between the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) and autonomous mobility companies Beep and NAVYA, a fleet of autonomous vehicles have recently been put to work by transporting COVID-19 test kits from a drive-through testing site to Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus in Jacksonville, Florida. Professionals on both ends of the route handle and secure medical supplies and samples on the vehicles before sending them off free of drivers and passengers.
“During a time of rapid change and uncertainty, the ability to think innovatively alongside the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, NAVYA and Beep during the pandemic has strengthened all of our teams through community collaboration,” Kent Thielen, CEO of Mayo Clinic in Florida, said in a press statement. “Using artificial intelligence enables us to protect staff from exposure to this contagious virus by using cutting-edge autonomous vehicle technology and frees up staff time that can be dedicated to direct treatment and care for patients.”
The initiative launched on March 30, with four autonomous vehicles on routes distant from pedestrians and automobile traffic as the latest product of JTA’s Ultimate Circulator program, originally set up in 2017 to determine the feasibility of converting the Jacksonville Skyway into a network of autonomous vehicles in 2017. “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,” said JTA CEO Nathaniel P. Ford.
A video presented by Mayo Clinic demonstrates the technology successfully traveling the journey between the two locations safely and on time, a task being closely monitored by members of the initiative operating from a mobile command center. According to Smart Cities Dive, around 150 tests a day are being transported using the vehicles, which could also be adapted to perform other necessary duties for Mayo Clinic deemed unsafe for human travelers.
Despite the apparent success of the program, time will tell if other cities across America, most of which have not yet invested in autonomous vehicles, will want to adopt the novel method of safely transporting emergency medical supplies.