Autonomous vehicles are couriering Covid-19 tests in the States
In a battle against the highly contagious coronavirus, the healthcare industry is relying on autonomous vehicles to eliminate risk of human exposure.
While progress in the future mobility market has certainly hit a speed bump amid widespread supply chain disruption and workshop closures, the COVID-19 pandemic is still sparking innovation in the sector, as we see demonstrations of how autonomous vehicles can help in the unique circumstances.
In what the medical nonprofit termed a ‘first’ for the US, French company NAVYA has been developing shuttle-bus-style vehicles with its partner Beep to transport COVID-19 testing kits and other supplies between drive-through testing sites and nearby laboratories.
NAVYA has conducted pilot programs since 2017 in Las Vegas and Michigan but has deployed its shuttle vehicles to help the Mayo Clinic in Florida to deliver urgent supplies and medical samples while minimizing potential person-to-person contact at a time where social distancing is enforced.
Director of Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic, Jane Hata, said “an established route for transit and little ancillary traffic” makes the perfect test bed for autonomous deliveries. The controlled environment warrants vital specimens to be safely transported while “eliminating the risk to a driver.”
Hata predicts that this program will cement the role of autonomous delivery in the medical industry.
“This method has many potential applications in the future for rapid and efficient specimen transport to our lab even as we move beyond the current situation,” Hata told Car and Driver.
Though this example is small scale, it forms part of the healthcare industry’s growing interest in autonomous driving technology to bolster transportation of medical supplies, both in the short-term and when the pandemic begins to retreat.
Last month, the healthcare industry witnessed the successful transportation of a donor kidney by flying drones. The University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore aims to expand the application to serve regions as far as Rochester, Duluth, and Fargo.
Medifly, a German-backed research project, has been actively exploring the applications of unmanned drone deliveries in an urban environment, with the goal of helping hospitals in delivering tissue samples between campuses.