A Florida lab is using self-driving vans to ferry coronavirus tests

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A Florida lab is using self-driving vans to ferry coronavirus tests

A Florida lab is using self-driving vans to ferry coronavirus tests
A medical facility in Florida is using autonomous driving technology to ferry coronavirus tests around campus.

The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida announced on Thursday that it has been using self-driving shuttles to transport coronavirus tests from a drive-in testing clinic to the processing lab. The project was set up by a partnership between the Jacksonville Transport Authority (JTA) and two autonomous driving startups, Beep and Navya.

According to the Mayo Clinic, four of the shuttles have been in use since March 30. Although the shuttle drives by itself, it is shadowed by an SUV that drives behind it. CEO of Beep Joe Moye told The Verge the SUV (and the humans driving them) are there to "ensure no traffic or pedestrians would potentially impact the delivery path of the COVID-19 samples and supplies."

The trip is not long, but the Mayo Clinic says that using an autonomous vehicle helps limit exposure to the virus and free up healthcare workers' time.

"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. We are grateful to JTA, Beep and Navya for their partnership in these challenging times," CEO of the Mayo Clinic Kent Thielen said in a statement.

Generally speaking the coronavirus outbreak has been a blow to the nascent autonomous driving industry. Big self-driving projects from Alphabet's Waymo and Uber have had to be suspended.

"We are leveraging our learnings from three years of testing autonomous vehicles through our Ultimate Urban Circulator program," CEO of JTA Nathaniel Ford said in a statement. Jacksonville's Ultimate Urban Circulator program uses automated shuttles with human supervisors onboard.

"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."

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