Why it matters: Autonomous vehicle tech has a seemingly infinite number of potential use cases. Not only can it be used to transport people and products from place to place, but in a pandemic like the one we're facing now, self-driving cars also possess the ability to safely facilitate the transit of important medical items between hospitals, labs, and other healthcare locations.
The Mayo Clinic recently announced that it has begun to do just that. The organization has started deploying shuttles to help transport COVID-19 tests from drive-thru testing locations throughout the state to a processing lab at the Mayo Clinic's Florida campus. There, the test samples will be examined for signs of COVID-19 infection.
While the shuttles are indeed driving themselves, they are not completely free from the influence of humans. In addition to being constantly monitored by staff from the Mayo Clinic, self-driving tech partner Beep, and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, these vehicles will be closely followed by a manned SUV. The SUV driver's primary job is to ensure the shuttle's transportation path is not hindered by "traffic or pedestrians."
Even so, the risk of infection transmission should be lower with this minimal-contact delivery method. Obviously, someone still needs to load and unload the tests (which are stored in coolers), but during transit, there's no chance of them being contaminated by a driver.
For now, the Mayo Clinic has worked with its partners to deploy four self-driving shuttles along pre-determined routes. It's unclear whether or not the fleet will be expanded any further, but we wouldn't be surprised if it is -- the COVID-19 pandemic isn't going away anytime soon.