Driverless electric-powered vehicles are being used for the first time in the U.S. – according to JTA – to transport medical supplies and COVID-19 tests.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s autonomous test vehicles are being used to transport COVID-19 tests collected at the Mayo Clinic’s drive-thru location on its Jacksonville campus. Mayo Clinic is currently offering the tests only to its established patients.
Up to four driverless electric shuttles are operating without any attendants or passengers onboard.
JTA has been testing the autonomous vehicles for its upcoming Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) program, which will expand on the existing Skyway, and eventually replace the current monorail system with driverless EVs that can travel both on elevated tracks and at ground level on city streets.
“Along with our partners Beep, NAVYA and Mayo Clinic, we are leveraging our learnings from three years of testing autonomous vehicles through our Ultimate Urban Circulator program. Our innovative team saw this as an opportunity to use technology to respond to this crisis in Northeast Florida and increase the safety of COVID-19 testing,” said JTA CEO Nathaniel P. Ford Sr. in an email to WJCT News.
JTA said the routes are separated from pedestrians, traffic and Mayo Clinic staff and are being closely monitored from a mobile command center.
“Using artificial intelligence enables us to protect staff from exposure to this contagious virus by using cutting edge autonomous vehicle technology, and frees up staff time that can be dedicated to direct treatment and care for patients,” said Kent Thielen, M.D., CEO, Mayo Clinic in Florida.
JTA has been working toward rolling out autonomous vehicles in Jacksonville in a much wider use setting.
Among the first routes planned is the Jax Bay Innovation Corridor, which will run approximately from TIAA Bank Field and down to the new Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center (JRTC) across from the Prime Osborn Convention Center. The JRTC's opening date is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our current plan is having the Bay Street Innovation Corridor up and running within the next three years, and it may be sooner,” Ford told WJCT News last fall.