Autonomous shuttles are being used to move the COVID-19 tests from a test site in Jacksonville, Florida, to a nearby Mayo Clinic processing location, in what the nonprofit medical organization is calling “first” for the US. But as is often the case with autonomous vehicle pilot programs, there is a downside: During every race to and from the clinic, autonomous vans are being followed by a human-driven SUV.
The SUV can be seen in a video posted by the Mayo Clinic after one of the Mayo Clinic workers loads the coldest evidence onto the autonomous shuttle. The SUV then follows the shuttle through the Mayo Clinic campus, where the new test batch is traded for a fresher one. Four of these vehicles have made the same round trip each day since March 30.
In a statement provided to The Verge, Joe Moye, CEO of autonomous vehicle operator Beep, said the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is providing the chase vehicles to “ensure that traffic or pedestrians do not potentially affect the delivery route of samples and supplies of COVID-19 “. “That despite the fact that the Mayo Clinic press release says the routes the shuttles are running” are isolated from pedestrians, traffic, and staff. “
A Beep representative, who worked with the Mayo Clinic, JTA and autonomous ferry builder Navya on the pilot, says putting the tests on the shuttle without an assistant rather than a human-driven SUV or truck helps limit any possible exposure to the new coronavirus. And judging by the distance traveled in the video posted by the Mayo Clinic, it appears that using some type of vehicle, autonomous or not, would help speed up the delivery of evidence to the processing site. Another benefit, according to Moye, is that the shuttle helps keep Mayo Clinic staff as free as possible since they would otherwise have to transport the samples themselves.
The Mayo Clinic also “wanted to take all possible precautions,” according to David Cawton II, director of communications for JTA. Since JTA has been using these autonomous shuttles for some years with on-board assistants, Cawton II said the agency believes it is gathering valuable information and experience “even if this service works with an additional layer of human oversight or remote interaction.”
Still, humans are not as far out of the delivery cycle as it seems. In addition to the shadow cars, Beep, the Mayo Clinic and the JTA also “closely monitor” the ferries from a “mobile command center” to ensure there are no problems with deliveries.
Testing quickly and safely is a high priority at this time, especially considering how long it took you to the US. Implement a serious testing regimen. But the new shuttle-assisted autonomous effort in Florida is just the latest example of how difficult it is to completely eliminate humans from the task of driving, even during a pandemic, when corners are sometimes allowed to be cut and corners can be changed. rules or completely rewritten.