Aldo Zini, president of Aethon, shows off his TUG robotic helper at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The 50-pound machine, which looks like a vacuum cleaner mated to a cabinet, is designed to autonomously ferry loads of linens, medical supplies, X-rays, food and other materials.
In a push to lower costs and free up workers for more critical tasks, hospital officials are turning more and more to robots like TUG to ply their hallways.
Other robots include the RoboCart -- a motorized table -- and the droid-like HelpMate, a four-foot tall cabinet with flashing lights and turn signals that would be welcome in any sci-fi movie.
It's unclear how many automated courier robots are being used in the nation's hospitals. There may be six dozen to about 120, according to experts and a small number of private U.S. companies making the robots.
The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston, Texas, has been using two HelpMates to cart medicine from the pharmacy to nursing stations throughout the six-floor, 352-bed hospital. They make as many as 30 trips a day, said Susan Dierker, a nursing supervisor.
"They're wonderful and they talk to you in Spanish and English. The nursing staff is pleased with them and most people just stare because they're wandering around the hospital," Dierker said.
The TUG, made by Pittsburgh-based Aethon, and the HelpMate, made by Ohio-based Cardinal Health, are more advanced than the RoboCart, made by California Computer Research Inc.
The RoboCart has a fixed path determined by tape placed in a hallway and has sonar to help it avoid smacking into a person or object in its path. It mostly ferries blood samples from one end of a laboratory to another.
On the other hand, the TUG and HelpMate are packed with sensors to help them "see." The TUG can tell the difference between a person standing in its way and a bag placed in a hallway.
on u go.......