Autonomous Vehicles Step up for COVID-19

A robot is just the right coworker for the coronavirus pandemic. Autonomous vehicles are one type of robot that may benefit from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mayo Clinic’s Florida branch in Jacksonville, Florida, is using robotic vehicles to transport COVID-19 tests from a drive-through clinic to the lab where they will be analyzed. Facility workers load up the tests in sealed containers and send them off on their own.

This reduces the number of human contacts required. It also frees up medical team members so they can spend more time working directly with patients.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is working with Mayo Clinic, the makers of the autonomous carts, software makers, and more to try out the autonomous vehicles with an eye to using them around the city.

Optimus Ride has deployed autonomous vehicles to deliver food to nursing home residents who are no longer gathering together for meals.

It’s ironic, but as most autonomous vehicle companies shut down their research and testing because of the pandemic, autonomous vehicles are just what people want.

Hands-free deliveries

Services like Instacart which deliver groceries to homes are seeing enormous surges in popularity as more people are asked to shelter at home. Only five states are still resisting stay at home orders.

“I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci said on CNN. “We really should be.”

Autonomous vehicles would allow deliveries of groceries, prescriptions, and carry-out food without endangering human drivers. Obviously, they will also reduce the danger of infection by human drivers who might themselves unknowingly carry the virus.

This requires sterilization of the vehicles between deliveries, but it could provide a solution.

Safety drivers in autonomous vehicles for companies like Zoox and Waymo have been sent home at this point, but smaller delivery vehicles that don’t drive around as much as full fledged driverless cars are still out and about.

Driverless warehousing vehicles have already become commonplace, and COVID-19 may speed up the acceptance of autonomous vehicles in more situations… once their makers can get back to work.

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