Drive-thru COVID-19 tests are only as safe and quick as the systems used to put those tests in the hands of clinics, and a new initiative in Jacksonville, Florida might just improve that weak link. The Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Navya and Beep are using completely self-driving shuttles to carry COVID-19 tests from a drive-thru location to the Mayo Clinic campus. The move theoretically minimizes exposure to the virus and frees up medical staff for taking care of patients.
Four of the shuttles have been running on the initial route every day since March 30th.
Like many autonomous vehicle efforts, this isn’t entirely unsupervised. A human-driven SUV tails behind the shuffle each time, and staff will need to both load and unload the sample coolers. The partners involved are also monitoring the service from a mobile command center. The SUVs are to make sure no cars or traffic “impact the delivery path” of the shuttles, a spokesperson told The Verge.
We wouldn’t expect efforts like this to become commonplace during the outbreak. The technology is still young, and many officials are more concerned with increasing the number of tests in the first place than delivering them more efficiently. This does hint at how medical tests and samples could be handled going forward, though. Clinics could have driverless shuttles operating around the clock, letting healthcare workers focus on patients instead of logistics.