Four robots will be operated on night shifts from 5 p.m. through 8 a.m., when fewer employees are working. Depending on the outcome of the yearlong trial run, hospital officials could expand the use of the robots, for example, to cover an inpatients’ ward.
The system was developed jointly by Nagoya University and Toyota Industries Corp., an affiliate of Toyota Motor Corp., on the basis of technology for self-driving cars.
The robots will travel on their routes by referring to hospital floor plans and relying on mounted radar devices and cameras that provide a 360-degree field of vision.
If a person gets in the way, the robot may automatically dodge the human or air a message saying, “Excuse me, please let me pass.”
The robots can ride elevators to move to different floors. They automatically return to a charging station when they need a recharge.
“The workload can be reduced by using robots to do tasks that people have been doing,” said Naoki Ishiguro, director of the hospital. “We hope to ensure that nurses and other professionals can concentrate more on their primary duties.”
Each robot is 125 centimeters tall, 50 cm wide and 63 cm deep. Shaped like a compact refrigerator, the robots can travel up to 3.6 kph. With a capacity of 90 liters, each can carry up to 30 kilograms.
They will move between the hospital’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit, Department of Hospital Pharmacy and Department of Clinical Laboratory, each housed in a different ward, to deliver intravenous fluids, test samples and other materials.
Registered workers, including nurses and pharmacists, can use a tablet device to call a robot and designate its destination. The robot then automatically delivers the materials according to instructions.
Similar autonomous transfer robots are already used at auto plants and elsewhere, but they have seldom been introduced to hospitals or other medical facilities in Japan, officials said.
The project at Nagoya University Hospital is aimed at drawing on robot technologies developed in the manufacturing sector to improve efficiency and deal with labor shortages.
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