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Autonomous Shuttles At Mayo Clinic Move COVID-19 Tests

Medical facilities around the globe struggle with health worker safety during the novel coronavirus crisis.

Autonomous shuttles are working diligently at the Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus to move COVID-19 tests from a drive-through testing checkpoint to a processing laboratory for analysis.  The first-in-the-country medical program, which started on March 30, involves 4 autonomous shuttles. Jacksonville Transportation Authority and self-driving startups Beep and Nayva are part of the larger project team.

autonomous shuttle at Mayo Clinic

Image retrieved from YouTube

Autonomous Shuttles at Mayo Clinic: How It Works

Like so many sites around the world, medical facilities are struggling to keep pace with the need to monitor and test for the novel coronavirus. Part of the equation is limiting the possibilities for health care and lab worker contagion.

The Mayo Clinic shuttle process is straightforward and well-suited for autonomous transportation.

  • Testing of individuals for COVID-19 takes place.
  • Health workers place the test kits into a secure container.
  • They move them to within the autonomous shuttle.
  • The shuttle travels along a predetermined route from which pedestrians, traffic, and staff are banned.
  • The driverless shuttle is accompanied from behind at a safe distance by another vehicle.
  • A central mobile command center is staffed with individuals who monitor the process, ensuring that each step is without problems.

The route is just under 0.8 miles in length, with between 5 and 6 cycles taking place each day.

The website reads, “At Mayo Clinic in Florida, innovative health care meets Southern hospitality. In the South, guests are treated like family. This Southern tradition extends to the Jacksonville campus of Mayo Clinic.”

The levels of worker interaction with and supervision of the Jacksonville autonomous shuttle COVID-19 testing samples mean that the process isn’t really less costly than if humans transported the samples from beginning to end. However, hospitals and research facilities are challenged by ways to serve their communities while also offering contact-free environments. The autonomous shuttles at Mayo Clinic are one way to build in safety measures at a time when numerous medical personnel are testing positive for the virus.

Indeed, the New York Times has reported that, as the coronavirus crisis has escalated, workers across careers have clashed with employers, accusing them of failing to protect and properly value them. The tensions come at a time when many blame the US federal government of abdicating its responsibility to the public’s health.

According to the statement released by the Mayo Clinic, Beep, an autonomous shuttle fleet service provider, transported the shuttles through Eagle Express, Inc., from Lake Nona, Florida. That site is their innovation hub, 150 miles away from the Jacksonville campus of the Mayo Clinic.

An additional shuttle is being used from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s Ultimate Urban Circulator program. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has actively tested autonomous vehicle technology since 2017 to prepare for a conversion and expansion of its Jacksonville Skyway automated people mover in downtown Jacksonville into a network powered by autonomous vehicles.

“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,” Kent Thielen, CEO of Mayo Clinic in Florida, said in a prepared statement. “We are grateful to JTA, Beep, and NAVYA for their partnership in these challenging times.”

The video was made available courtesy of the “Mayo Clinic News Network.”

Other Autonomous Delivery Vehicles in Service

Autonomous delivery startup Nuro has been granted a permit to begin driverless testing on California’s public roads. This is the first step for the company’s anticipated reveal of commercial operations throughout the state.

The autonomous Linden LEAP  (i.e. Linden Empowers All People) launched in Columbus, Ohio on a nearly 3-mile route. “The primary goal of the pilot is to pilot self-driving technology in a neighborhood setting,” said Alyssa N. Chenault, communications project manager for Smart Columbus. “The secondary goal of the project is to provide first-mile, last-mile solutions to connect residents to community resources.”

In Fribourg, Switzerland, Marly Innovation Center (MIC)  implemented an autonomous shuttle service to bridge the gap in public transportation services near its business park. The 1.3 km journey takes 7 minutes with 4 stops. The vehicles have an autonomy of 8 hours, and their maximum speed is limited to 25 km/h.

It’s been long felt that autonomous shuttles represent an attractive transportation method that can reduce congestion and make it easier for commuters to reach their destinations. The COVID-19 crisis has created a cultural emergency where innovations of all sorts are being pushed to the foreground. “It’s a new mobility option that’s extremely safe,” said Lauren Isaac, director of business initiatives for EasyMile, an autonomous mobility company headquartered in France.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. As part of her portfolio divestment, she purchased 5 shares of Tesla stock. Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


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