Mayo Clinic begins using autonomous shuttles to transport COVID-19 tests

Mayo Clinic using Navya's autonomous shuttle.

AV enthusiasts everywhere can rejoice, as the Mayo Clinic began using fully autonomous shuttles to transport COVID-19 tests in Jacksonville, Florida. A “first”, in the United States!

The Mayo Clinic posted a YouTube video on April 2nd showcasing their new autonomous self-driving shuttles with no humans inside. They’ve seen use in the past, but usually with a backup driver inside, “just in case”.

These fully electric autonomous vehicles are manufactured by Navya, a French company founded in 2013. Beep is a new company from Central Florida that is making use of Navya’s vehicles and finding the best ways to deploy them. Both of these companies are also responsible for the transportation infrastructure within the Lake Nona smart city in Orlando.

Understandably, using human-less shuttles at a time of pandemic makes perfect sense to limit human contact and transmission. According to Mayo Clinic, the routes that these shuttles are running are “isolated from pedestrians, traffic and staff.”

Nevertheless, the autonomous shuttles are “closely monitored” from a mobile command center than can quickly intervene if problems arise.

As an extra precaution, an SUV has been following the shuttles. Beep’s CEO Joe Moye said that these SUVs are to “ensure no traffic or pedestrians would potentially impact the delivery path of the COVID-19 samples and supplies.”

The idea is to free up human resources that are particularly scarce and otherwise needed elsewhere especially at a time like this. This also significantly speeds up the transport of material between locations. No need to find or wait for a driver that is prone to distractions, illness or being otherwise unavailable.

Mayo Clinic’s video using Beep/Nayva’s autonomous shuttles.

Relax, automation isn’t here yet.

Obviously, in the future, the accompanying SUV and the mobile command center will no longer be required. The hope is that the technology will eventually reach a point of becoming so refined that no human oversight will be required at all.

We’re not quite there yet though.

In the mean time, those who fear automation need not worry, as the machines are not yet ready to take over our jobs. In fact, during this transition period, they’re only making jobs easier.

Whether you have to drive the same truck remotely rather than physically, or simply monitor it remotely. This is clearly a lot less physically and mentally demanding than being in a truck for hours on end.

It also helps people spend more time with their families. Forget spending weeks or months on the road. Head down to your office and remotely drive or monitor your vehicle. Once your shift is over, return home and someone else takes over the same vehicle from the same office or a different one.

This transition period can last as long as there is demand for it in the market. It’s unlikely that human drivers will be phased out entirely anytime soon. Many will probably still prefer them and trust them over a machine at the wheel. Rural areas in particular will likely continue using human drivers for a long time.

Driving as a whole isn’t going anywhere, especially with affordable car subscription services, even for minors.