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Robots in Hospitals 258

Dieppe writes "Robot couriers are being used in hospitals CNN. The robots are being used as delivery 'bots to deliver medicine and other hospital supplies. They are polite, and even can be overly cautious. I wonder if at night they supply them with saws, arms and other cutting devices and let them at each other? Turns out they're cost effective as well!"
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Robots in Hospitals

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  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:18PM (#9626029) Homepage Journal
    Oh, yeah. I can just see the original thinkers at Hollywood, Inc. making a movie about these. Robots, designed to serve and help mankind, a minor flaw, they think for themselves and start taking out the patients systematically until some tough macho cop, probably played by a typecast actor shows up and swaggers a lot and blows them apart with the kind of gun only SWAT teams and infantry are issued, all the while uttering expletives which only entertain juveniles. They'll probably rip off the title of some great sci-fi classic, too, just to promote the lousy thing.

    There was a comic I won at a school fair in the late 60's, with cover ripped off (probably return donated by distributor) Magnus Robot Fighter, which would fit the bill rather well.

    • by dg41 ( 743918 )
      I suppose that the medical industry has to do SOMETHING about the lack of employees in the growing healthcare industry.
    • ... a minor flaw that allows the robots to think for themselves. They learn to do the doctor's jobs better than the doctors, and are about to replace them entirely when an angry mob of surgeons breaks into the hospital, smashes the robots optical receptors in with the blunt end of a bedpan and dismembers the helpeless helpful machines with operating room saws, and everything goes back to how God intended it to be.

      The end.
    • You forgot the part where the hero turns to the dark side and becomes a politician.
    • Oh, yeah. I can just see the original thinkers at Hollywood, Inc. making a movie about these. Robots, designed to serve and help mankind, a minor flaw,

      There was a short story I remember reading (but completely lost the name of the author/title), which feature a man who was the last human being on Earth. Something on the lines of cryogenic storage is used to store people with terminal illnesses until they can be cured. During this time of his storage, the entire human population declines, with robots repla
    • Robotic nurses make better lovers, eh?
  • by lickalotapus ( 725668 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:19PM (#9626052)
    Uh, I think we all know what happens next [].
  • And...? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ResidntGeek ( 772730 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:19PM (#9626056) Journal
    Robots are also being used in delicate surgeries, to ease hand tremors by the surgeon. They use various methods of control, but the basic idea is the doctor is in a different room and the robot in the operating room, weilding the scalpel, clamps, camera, etc.
    • Re:And...? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CFBMoo1 ( 157453 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @05:00PM (#9626484) Homepage
      Here's a link to my old colleges CS department. They have surgical simulators with force feedback in the works when I was graduating. I did some minor work on the lumbar puncture simulator for a final semester project. Was really fun stuff.

      Millersville University's Research in Haptics and Surgical Simulation []
  • by tedtimmons ( 97599 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:20PM (#9626065) Homepage
    The RoboCart has a fixed path determined by tape placed in a hallway

    So basically, nothing has changed since Tron?

    Or since the kit-based "line follower" robots, for that matter.



    (Yes, I know that most other bots are smarter than that, I used to live across the street from Pyxis. Get over it, I did RTFM.)

    • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <akaimbatman AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:25PM (#9626150) Homepage Journal
      So basically, nothing has changed since Tron?

      Wrong movie [] there, bub. Looker predated Tron by over a year, and it actually FEATURED the trash robots running around. Just watch out for the bad guys with their "invisio-flashy-thingy" guns.
    • But think of the entertainment value in doing a Roadrunner-esque 'pick up the highway lines and point them at a cliff'! But seriously, once we get some kind of inexpenisve e-paper/vinyl, you could use something as simple as the line-following robot if the floor could rearrange the lines. Drawing a path between two points that avoids stationary objects is easy, as is making something follow a line and stop whenever something moves in its way. Having something figure out a viable path on the run, however, is
  • .oO (Score:5, Funny)

    by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:20PM (#9626068) Homepage Journal
    Doctor: Scalpel.

    Robot: Scalpel.

    Doctor: Domo arigato, Nurse Roboto.
  • by eltoyoboyo ( 750015 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:20PM (#9626071) Journal
    The HelpMate asks people, "please examine my contents," when it makes a delivery.

    I can't wait to see what phrase gets hacked into the voice processsor to replace this informative gem.

    • I can't wait to see what phrase gets hacked into the voice processsor to replace this informative gem.

      "Hey, check out my package."

      "Somebody order a pizza?"

      "Does this smell funny to you?"

      "I swear to god, it was like that when I got it."

      And my personal favorite:

      "Hey, what'll you give me for this crap?"
  • RoboDoc (Score:5, Interesting)

    by yanestra ( 526590 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:21PM (#9626081) Journal
    In Germany, an US product called RoboDoc was working for several years doing pre-programmed hip joint operations. Several hundreds of victims are now preparing to sue the hospitals - the ensanguined operations have led to severe destructions in nerves, muscles and bones.
    • I heard that lawsuit is just limping along though.
    • Re:RoboDoc (Score:5, Interesting)

      by theCat ( 36907 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:56PM (#9626459) Journal
      Just to show what a small world it is... I did some db development for the animal doctor/surgeon who perfected the technique on dogs in his vet practice, using technology developed by a guy who died just before it went gold.

      I guess hip problems are common in some canine species, so the technique go a lot of trial while doing some for animals. And dogs come in many sizes so the techniques once refined could scale easily according to mathematical models.

      This was about 10 years ago. If it's not the same outfit, then there was some parallel work going on. In any event, deploying robots to do hip replacements was a no-brainer; hips are done all the time and are very mechanical, yet are easy to screw up and often require re-tooling at a later date. The guy I worked for was very excited that "permanent" hip replacements were in the offing. Certainly the dogs seemed to do very well, running and jumping and the whole thing. Miracles, really, according to him.

      But dogs can't report the same kinds of subtle post-op issues a human could and would. Maybe it was a technology still not ready for prime time?
  • Great idea! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mr. Neutron ( 3115 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:21PM (#9626084) Homepage Journal
    Too bad that they eat old people's medicine for fuel.
  • Watch out! (Score:4, Funny)

    by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:22PM (#9626090) Homepage Journal
    In the brave new world, the terrorists will come armed with coloured tape to control the robot hoards.
  • by DoctorDeath ( 774634 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:23PM (#9626103)
    My mother (an RN) was recently complaining about the hospital she works in going to using computers in place of paper to do all the patient reports. She had a fit when I told her the local hospitals are using laptops and scanners in every room and medicines are kept lockedup until the nurse scans the patient ID. After the computer verifies the patient it then unlocks the proper drawer so the nurse can get the proper medicine. Now this comes along and she will end up in a nut house for sure.
    • My girlfriend is a RN too. She likes the tech (when it works) because it helps eliminate mistakes. The scanning of wrist bar codes for drugs seems to be helping with that. It's amazing how often the wrong drugs or dosages are given to patients. Especially since nurses are incredibly overworked - they frequently have to work 12+ hours. In some hospitals, if you don't put in the time, they'll fire you. Some how, they're getting around labor laws. And now, hospitals are trying to get foreign workers to become
    • by jjshoe ( 410772 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:46PM (#9626363) Homepage
      Are you perhaps thinking of a pyxis machine? [link][/link] The idea is fairly simple. You enter a patient id and you are given drug options. A drawer opens and you count the current amount of items. You take your item out and re-count. done.

      Dr. Plummer brought a lot of technology to the health care industry that can be read here [link] 1ir.pdf[/link]. One of the items it does not cover that Dr. Plummer did was an intercom system. He called the telco and told a sales person what he wanted. The sales person said it couldnt be done. Plummer demanded to speak to an engineer, who also said it could not be done. Dr. Plummer convinced the engineer that it could and will be done. vwala.

      The paging sytem at Mayo now is quite efficent. You have a pager, number 11, for when you are away from your desk. Your boss decides he wants to talk to you. He answers the phone and dials 11. Your pager goes off. You pick up the nearest phone and press #11 causing you to be connected to your boss. If you are unable to answer your pager it rolls over to either a pre-defined number or voice mail. Robots arnt the only/most efficent technology used in hospitals.

      Anoter fact from [link] ml[/link] "Mayo Clinic occupies approximately 15 million square feet -- about 2.9 times the size of the Mall of America." hit the site, browse around, be amazed.
    • All that paper being handled by numerous people means it's probably carrying numerous pathogens around the hospital. A properly designed computer could be trivially sterilized (hopefully on a regular basis) and as such would be cleaner than paper, in addition to all the other benefits of using computers in the first place, like the fact that ASCII cannot be entered illegibly - it just won't enter at all in that case :)

      Keeping digital records of everything really ought to be mandatory for all health care f

  • Robo-sourcing? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by manabadman ( 589984 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:23PM (#9626110)

    University of Virginia Hospital could save as much as $218,000 a year if it replaced 15 human couriers with six HelpMate robots, which would pay for themselves in little over three years.

    Its not just IT workers that are in danger, and its not just Indian workers that are taking away jobs.

    But thats just how the world works. Invention brings about efficiency but it also opens new avenues for humans. After all H. Ford's assembly line has created a net gain in jobs, right?

    I for one welcome our new ... bah, hello nurse :)

    • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:51PM (#9626407) Homepage
      If there's a robot to empty bed-pans or colostomy bags, I don't think anybody would mind giving up that job.

    • You have to wonder how things will work out if this is carried through to its logical conclusion - all menial/unskilled jobs, and a lot of skilled ones, are replaced by robots that can do the job more efficiently. A lot of people are now out of work, or make-work positions for them have to be created. I think in these circumstances, a communist or socialist system begins to look good because now fewer people have to work and the benefits can be enjoyed by everyone. OTOH I don't think we're at this stage
      • Re:Robo-sourcing? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Saeger ( 456549 ) <> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:12PM (#9627125) Homepage
        This technological progress will unfold much faster [] than you might intuitively assume from the rate of TODAY'S progress. Read Marshall Brain's RoboticNation [] for a good look into the still-pre-singularity period of this coming robotic future. From fast-food, to trucking, to war, robots will be replacing many millions of jobs over the next decade or so, but until society adapts to this reality, humans will still need to 'work for a living' to justify their existence.

        I think in these circumstances, a communist or socialist system begins to look good

        You can't use the C-word anymore (no, not Cunt - I mean Communism). Even I wouldn't advocate pure communism or socialism, though, but instead a kind of capitalist meritocracy where there's still some ownership, but not to the outrageous excess we see today. Yeah, I'm for limits on personal and corporate wealth. *gasp*.

        In a future where the vast majority of work has been automated, the means of most production should be owned by the people, and all the newly technologically-unemployed "useless eaters" should get their fair share of this automated abundance (rather than starving and revolting), but if you're a little greedier and want a BIGGER PIECE OF THE RESOURCE PIE, then you've got to somehow earn the whuffie by being a 'better' human being than the other 6-billion well-fed humans. What will a leisure society value the most (that can't be automated and owned by a monopoly)?

        A little farther down the road and 'molecular manufacturing' enters the picture, in which the means of production can actually be owned by each and every person because there's no longer a need for a robotic infrastructure to move around the fruits of our old bulk-technology. With nanotech, each person could once again become a self-sufficient island, recycling 'garbage' molecules into food... bla bla.


    • by bhsx ( 458600 )

      (blatantly ripped-off of another /.er, but I couldn't find it to site)
  • Rx Bots Make Sense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grunt107 ( 739510 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:23PM (#9626115)
    These would be very useful in performing all the menial hospital tasks and free up nurses to do the more important stuff. For instance, why not have bots that empty bedpans, scrub/disinfect the floors (and vac up the occasional 'urp). It would also be beneficial to have 'bots for retrieving/turning the hefty or bedridden patients. This would also help in lowering the nursing staff injuries due to fatty-tossing (I have relatives that routinely lift 500+ lb'ers).
    • You don't need a robot for that. You need a forklift...
    • Our hospital bought one this year. It's to keep some of the Rx techs busy in Pharmacy and not on the floors for deliveries. It's an automated system that can keep track of which stations need refilled. So, instead of using a person to fill the bins, the robot fills the bins.

      Except the robot can't fill narcotics.

      And he has a rather difficult time getting around.

      And he still has to have an Rx tech escort him throughout the hospital.

      So... the savings are, uh... negative.

  • by 00Sovereign ( 106393 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:24PM (#9626118)
    The day when the robots are seen searching the hospital records for a particular "Sarah Connor"
  • The HelpMate asks people, "please examine my contents," when it makes a delivery.

    Goatse-bot is one step closer to reality.
  • They have been doing this kind of stuff, with heavy loads in automated factories and warehouses. What is new?
  • I would hope these things go through a daily or weekly cleaning routine. It isn't like a human that can wash their hands, robots don't give a darn about personal hygine.

    Perhaps they are even cleaner than humans, however they probably have a lot of people touching them.
  • This is news? (Score:5, Informative)

    by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:26PM (#9626156) Homepage Journal
    We've had one in my med school for, oh, four or five years. They even ginned up an ID badge for him, which necessitated a naming contest (the winning entry was "Rudy").

    Works just like the article says - takes drugs from the pharmacy to the floor. Fairly straightforward, really. I'm honestly surprised there aren't more in use - most hospitals (of any real size - I'm not counting all the rural 30- and 40-bed hospitals) use a pneumatic tube system of some sort to deliver meds to the floors, and those are notoriously difficult and expensive to maintain.

    • Pneumatic tubes have raised the bar for butlers and delivery boys everywhere. Who can run or bike as fast as compressed air? A system of slightly larger pneumatic tubes might obsolete taxicabs and city buses.

      If a weak flow of air can be made to switch a stronger one's direction, or switch it on and off, we're ALL screwed. Elaborate networks of air currents, switching one another on and off, could be designed using Boole's rules of logic, and BAM you've got a machine that thinks. Give it two weeks and it wi

  • I just saw that the Federal Reserve in NY uses robots to store gold. No security check, nobody to sue when a ton of bricks drops on them.

    In hospitals, they have to have more avoidance routines, but you could secure narcotics in a safe for delivery to wards and automatically track robot locations.

    They're a great win. But have been around for a while.

    Now, if they were in the shape of a giant penguin, I could see the relevance to slashdot!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There are so many different ways that hospitals are using robots now - telerobotic doctors, specialized robotic surgeons [], automated ICUs []. This is a nice round-up:

    The arrival of the robotic hospital []

  • Please tell me I'm not the only one who is reminded of R.A.L.F. (Robotic Assistant Labor Facilitator) from Flight of the Navigator?
  • Shh!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by sserendipity ( 696118 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:30PM (#9626196)
    >I wonder if at night they supply them with saws,
    >arms and other cutting devices and let them at each
    >other? Turns out they're cost effective as well!

    The first rule of Robot Club is _no_ talking about Robot Club.
  • At least it was in Wichita, KS. I remember a co-worker getting run over as he tried to repair a printer and had his legs out in the hallway. The thing didn't catch him and he was semi-pinned between the door jam, the printer, and the robot. This was like 1996 or so.

    Sounds like they haven't changed much. These followed tape on the floor and asked you to move if they detected you. Maybe their detection has gotten a bit better :)
    • Re:Old news! (Score:2, Informative)

      by demonlapin ( 527802 )
      They don't all use tape on the floor. We have one that apparently gets its bearings from radio - there are beacon antennas at the nursing stations and in front of the elevators.
  • by kerv ( 734279 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:32PM (#9626220) Homepage
    I don't know about you guys, but our hospitals up in Canada don't allow the use of cell phones within the building. I guess they figure that they may interfere with some of the life support machinery. Now their allowing some robots to run around? Sounds a little iffy to me don't you think? I think I would be a little scared if I was half-a-wake and some nurse was giving me some needle that a robot just handed her. You might even think you were abducted by aliens!
    • The one I am aware of only uses radio frequencies to communicate with the elevators (inside the shafts). Navigation is through memory, then radar and sonar for collision avoidance.

      Actually look a little like a dalek minus the gun.

    • You can certify that an exact model of robot has particular RF-generating characteristics. Maintaining a list of cell phone + 3rd-party antenna combinations and only allowing visitors to use approved ones just isn't feasible.
    • The thing about medical equipment is that it is not required to be FCC licensed, and here I am talking about radio devices. I can dimly recall an anecdote where a city in TX (probably Houston) did a digital television test and set off all the heart monitors in a nearby medical facility, because they were using unlicensed frequencies which had formerly been vacant (or functionally so for their purposes) and were now being utilized.

      It's amazing all the kind of restrictions placed on medical hardware, like n

  • by blaberski ( 215844 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:34PM (#9626235)
    Well, sort of anyway. I work in alot of hospitals all around the country. Anyway, at one of the hospitals, I get in the elivator on the first floor, push the button for the 3rd floor and the door closed.

    The elivator stops on the second floor and one of these robots get in. It took what seemed like forever for it to get in the elivator and get turned around. Once it had turned the right way in the elivator it then proceeded to make a bunch of tones.

    The doors closed, and the elivator began to move, it then bypassed my floor went all the way to the 8th floor. Where it got out and left me standing their.

    Apparently at this hospital the robots have priority on all elivator trafic. It simply overrode my selection and put in its own.

    Damn Robots.
  • Therein lies the greatest potential for future trouble. One of the greatest fears of robots and machines in general, aside from them going out of control, has been that they are cheap labor and take away jobs. Yes, the same fears abounded when computers were first being introduced into the marketplace. Fortunately the shift was smoother than expected (though certainly not complete yet). Hopefully society can make the transition to increased robotics with as much ease as that one.
  • Candy Stripers... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by inkdesign ( 7389 )
    While yes, these robots can replace a human for delivering supplies, keep in mind that hospitals have used volunteers for that job for years. These robots won't save a hospital 200,000 dollars a year until they replace the doctor. :0]
  • From another [] article:
    "Tug is a beefed up, industrial version of Cye with a patent-protected navigation/tracking system that slashes its price thousands of dollars below the competition, according to Thorne. Other differentiating factors include Tug's enormous 500-pound hauling capacity and a retrofit kit to pull existing hospital carts."
    You can find out more about Cye here [].
  • Ancient news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:37PM (#9626271) Homepage Journal
    When I was transferred to Naval Hospital San Diego (now NavMedCenSD, I think), they'd had pretty much that exact system in use for several years. You'd occasional have to get out of the way of one of the little automatic carts as they followed their trails throughout the hospital. The freaky part was when you'd be walking down a long hallway, two little doors would slide open on opposite walls in front of you, a cart would come out from one wall and scoot into the other, and the doors would close behind it. I always wanted to duck in behind one but military chain-of-command is notoriously unsympathetic to tunnel hacking.

    Then again, military medicine seems to be quite a few years ahead of times. By the time I'd graduated from Operating Room Tech school in San Diego in 1993, I'd scrubbed in on many arthroscopic gall bladder removals and pretty much took them for granted. I was pretty surprised a couple of years ago to see a local newspaper bragging about how our hospital had recently acquired the equipment for "state-of-the-art arthroscopic gall bladder removal". One of my friends supervised the NHSD's digital imaging system in '94 or so, and the local civilian facility is just now completing a switchover to the same idea.

    I wouldn't do it again if I had the choice, but we definitely had the coolest toys to play with.

    • Re:Ancient news (Score:2, Informative)

      by steelheals ( 667878 )
      Not to be a jerk but just informative: arthroscopic means you use the camera to look in a joint (arthro like arthritis or what an orthopedic surgeon would do to scope your joint/eg. knee). Laparoscopic is what you meant for looking in the abdomen for the gallbladder. Or thorascopic for chest, etc. Yes, IAAS (surgeon).
  • This will make hosptials even more scary for an 8 year olds. I hope they make special effort to make the robots look cute!
    • What? I had an extended stay in the hospital when I was at that age and I would've absolutely spazzed with joy at the idea of robots running around doing robotty things.

      In reality, the robots are pretty dull. Imagine a featureless 2.5ft wide x 3.5ft long x 3ft tall box on wheels. If a kid's terrified of that, then you need to slap the Teletubbies out of 'em.

  • 1920's technology (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:40PM (#9626303)

    Pneumatic tubes would probably work better. If you REALLY want a robot, the robot could do the routing.

    • Pneumatic tubes would probably work better.

      Nope. Pneumatic tubes suck at delivering cargo larger than, say, a small coffee can.

      On the other hand, labelling a cracked, leaking test tube filled with water, corn syrup, and red food coloring with a lab request sheet for Ebola and sticking it on a robot delivery unit for a random part of the hospital just isn't the same as delivering 10cc of terror-fueled hilarity to a friend's vacuum tube receiver.

  • Overly? (Score:3, Funny)

    by cardshark2001 ( 444650 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:42PM (#9626327)
    They are polite, and even can be overly cautious.

    Anyone who thinks a robot can be "overly cautious" hasn't watched enough Arnold movies. I mean, unless the robot makes you sign reams of bureaucratic forms before it will do anything, or something like that.

  • Need or hype (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:42PM (#9626329) Homepage
    Quite a while ago I saw a presentation from three competing teams for a hospital robot. The first team, lead by AI types had spent quite a bit of time trying to program intelligence into the robot so that it would be able to navigate through the hospital and go around people. That team was bested by another who simply painted a magnetic stripe on the floor and had the robot stop whenever there was movement within two feet ratio. The winner of the competition placed train tracks hanging from the ceiling and used a simple real time controller that handled electric toy locomotives delivering medicines to the rooms. The cost was that of a few tyco sets.

  • I've used one... (Score:3, Informative)

    by kevlar ( 13509 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:48PM (#9626389)
    Hartford Hospital used one for their patient's food service. It would be loaded up with food trays and would autonomously call the elevator and drive down the hallway to deliver the trays. After the meal, it would drive all the empty trays back to the kitchen. My job at the time was to enter patients food intake into a database. This was circa 1996.

    Putnam Investments in Mass also has one that simply drives around reading a painted line that is only visible in ultra-violet light. It delivers the mail. Its pretty cool, but I have had a few isntances where it almost took my feet off going around a corner.
  • Not just at night (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:58PM (#9626471) Journal
    "I wonder if at night they supply them with saws, arms and other cutting devices and let them at each other?"

    From l

    "Two robotic surgical systems have received FDA clearance to be marketed in the United States: The da Vinci Surgical System, made by Intuitive Surgical, Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., is cleared to perform surgery under the direction of a surgeon. The ZEUS Robotic Surgical System, made by Computer Motion, Inc. of Goleta, Calif., has been cleared by the FDA to assist surgeons."
  • This is new? (Score:3, Informative)

    by cr0sh ( 43134 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @05:09PM (#9626543) Homepage
    As others have noted here, robots in hospitals are nothing new. What hasn't been mentioned is just how *old* this is.

    I have read several books published in the early 1980's which talked about these kind of robots. Most of them were about the size of a small chest freezer (about .75m x 1m x 1.5m), and followed a line on the floor, or a buried wire of some sort. Beacons or bar codes allowed the robots to recognize where they were at on the route.

    While I don't have any references for these books, one book I do own, entitled "The Robot Book" by Robert Malone (copyright 1978, ISBN 0-15-678452-1), shows on page 22 a picture of a robot called the "Lear Siegler Mailmobile" - looks basically like a large and mobile mail slot tray. I encourage anyone with an interest in robotics to get a copy of this book - lots of large, great imagery of various robots, real and fictional, as well as automata and other "automatic" machinery from earlier periods (it includes several large images of Hughes Aircraft Mobots, and a great picture of the GE Hardiman exoskeleton).

    Ever wonder why the "standard" test for a simple robot is a line following 'bot? Simply because this is a major industrial task used in a variety of robotic systems, even today (very robust if done properly). I remember taking a tour of a new newspaper publishing plant in my hometown when I was a kid - they had similar robots for loading large rolls of paper into the presses...

  • by scrod98 ( 609124 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @05:11PM (#9626567)
    I remember having this in the mid 90's when my mother was in the hospital, used to deliver drugs from the pharmacy. The bad part was that it would come on the floor, stop in front of the nurses station and




    On a loop every 30 seconds until someone responded (annoying when you aren't well). IIRC it had numeric code and a different compartment for each nurses station, so no stealing from others.

    Funniest was when it would encounter a wet floor sign or similar, and didn't know the difference btw that and a human. Would say "Excuse me, I need to get thru" 2-3x, then back up and go around.

    Wonder if they had to pay royalties to Steven Hawking for having the robot simulate his voice?

    • Wonder if they had to pay royalties to Steven Hawking for having the robot simulate his voice?

      Dr. Hawking's original synthesizer was an off-the-shelf module. Much of the hardware was customized, but not the voice. Same voice shows up all over the place.

      Later, after voice customization became less freakishly expensive, he was asked whether he wanted to change it. He said no, because he and his family and colleagues had come to identify with that voice, and a change would be very difficult.

      And he'

  • Slow news day? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by asackett ( 161377 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @05:14PM (#9626602) Homepage
    AGVS (Automatic Guided Vehicle Systems) have been in use in factories, hospitals, prisons, jails, mail rooms, etc. for a long time. The last real job I had (prior to becoming self employed) was as Service Manager for a robotics company that built AGVS with capacities ranging from 50lbs. to 6000lbs. and carried everything from the mundane mail and laundry to (exciting stuff!) explosives, and in one installation, people. Inmates, in fact, from the jail to the courthouse and back via an underground tunnel. Get busted, ride a robot!

    One client company who shall remain nameless (hint: starts with an "I" and ends with "ntel") had problems with jealous employees sabotaging and abusing the AGV's in their factories, believing that they were replacing human workers. Maybe they did replace human workers, maybe they were responsible for keeping more jobs in the US than would have been offshored without them. I dunno.

    Those AGV's all had voices, and were polite. If you were detected on or near the (buried) guidepath, the vehicle would slow and politely say, "Excuse me." If you didn't step away, the vehicle would stop and repeat "excuse me" every so often until you did. (It was comical to encounter a stalled machine asking a cardboard box to move.) Once you moved, it would say, "Thank you" and proceed on its way. Upon arriving at a destination where it expected human interaction, it would stop and say, "Hello."

    We built AGV's that could open and close doors, ride elevators, and accept their marching orders via wireless LAN or manual entry. The more complex installations had central controllers that could dispatch a vehicle from anywhere in the facility to anywhere else, tell it what to do at each stop along the way, route them on alternate paths to avoid congestion, etc. They were adept at avoiding collisions with other vehicles, and taking themselves out of service as they neared battery depletion -- when they'd seek an opportunity charger and put themselves on charge. Fun stuff.

    The mail delivery vehicle in our factory received far less maintenance than it ought to have, and sometimes wandered into a wall, where it would patiently ask, "excuse me", until it was rescued. So I named it Harvey (because it was a Wallbanger). One of our more powerful machines, during prototype testing, moved Harvey's favorite wall by several inches -- I wonder if they were involved in some kind of conspiracy.

    That company, Apogee Robotics, ceased operations ten years ago and certainly wasn't without competition. This stuff ain't news!
    • Very interesting inside info.

      I agree this is hardly news. I had the worst IT job ever a few years ago at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. I'm not sure when they got these robots but they had the very thing you and this article describe when I started there in 1997.
  • by deathcloset ( 626704 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @05:16PM (#9626627) Journal
    I've always thought a good application of microsurgical robotics would be internet-based multi-surgeon environments.
    I would think having 5 or 6 neurosurgeons working simultaneously could acheive rather extrordianry things. Say, reattachment of much beloved body parts (that's always been my favorite sugical application).
    Or, multi-surgeon environments could simply make lenghty operations much more speedy (getting a surgery done as soon as safely possible is certainly benificial in most situations).
    Come to think of it, why stop at 5 sugeons? make it a 64 surgeon server. I'm sure the insurance companies will love footing the bill for 64 neurosurgeons :)
    Just make sure your hospital has installed punk-buster [].
  • by Pvt_Waldo ( 459439 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @05:29PM (#9626783)
    ...I'd ask, "Who goes there? Friend or Enema?"
  • 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.

    I wonder what the unions will have to say about this? More and more they're dictating the overall operating terms of large organizations. Anything which reduces their impact must be bad.....
  • Saw a robot courier in '93 or '94 (don't remember exactly when). Was at some large corporation. Pretty much followed a stripe on the floor and stopped whenever someone got close. As I recall, it could handle the elevators. Seemed pretty cool to a kid back then. Not sure it's slashdot-worthy a decade later.
  • I am employed writing software for a company that makes robots that are used to help do physical therapy for stroke patients. We have been covered by ABC [] and BBC [], among others. (We have robots in Canada, but I know of no coverage by CBC [].) Anyway, some folks might wonder if these robots are replacing physical therapists (bad robots!). But this kind of physical therapy involves repetition of movement that is both boring and physically strenuous for therapists, so a tireless precise robot is a fine idea
  • by realmolo ( 574068 ) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:39PM (#9627336)
    I bet all the protologists in the ENTIRE WORLD can't wait to be replaced by robots.

    /insert additional joke about working with assholes all day long
  • by Tsu Dho Nimh ( 663417 ) <abacaxi&hotmail,com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:55PM (#9627444)
    We had "robotic" delivery carts for linens, food and supplies in the 1970s.

    Their flaw: they could be stymied by standing in their way and refusing to move, which made them of limited use in pediatrics because the kids kept harassing the robots.

  • by NeuroManson ( 214835 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @07:07PM (#9627526) Homepage
    Just retrofit a narrow robot sized elevator system, and/or a network of passageways they can use independant of hallways for them to use, which could increase their efficiency several fold (and possibly cost just slightly more than they save in manhours).

    In older hospitals, they used/use dumb waiter systems. A retrofit of those would be far less expensive.

    Another thought that crossed my mind, is that perhaps the bots are being used improperly. They do not require a floor to travel, that is a human need. They could run along the walls, or even the ceilings, without any slowdowns due to sharing the space with us gravity dependant beings.
  • The hospital my roomate works in has one of these. Its name is Sarah Tonin. It is damned money pit. For one, the thing is slow. Very Slow. It creeps up and down the hallways and when it requested the elevator, it blocks it for use by anyone else. Second, the thing is consistently broken. It spends more time in repairs than it does making rounds. All of this for a flat annual lease whose price is somewhat higher than the salary of the entry level support staff position the thing replaced. There is no
  • by jridley ( 9305 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:45PM (#9628183)
    I went to DC as a high school student in 1978. We got a tour of the department of labor, and they had one of these. It followed a tape in the floor, hailed elevators with an RC signal, and used sonar to avoid running into people and stray junk. It sounds EXACTLY like these units, and pretty much looks the same too. I have a photo but can't find it right now.

    So it's getting into very limited commercial use now, some 26 years later.

When someone says "I want a programming language in which I need only say what I wish done," give him a lollipop.