Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Meet Fenway the Robot, Hospital Helper

"Coming to Hospitals Near You: Self-Navigating Robots"
David Teeghman, Tech News, Discovery News (September 21, 2010)

"You've probably watched enough television shows about hospitals to know that they're busy places, where the right tools need to be in the right place at just the right time in order to help save lives. With hundreds of nurses, doctors and orderlies racing around, mistakes happen.

"But although humans are prone to mistake-making, robots aren't. Plus, they work for almost nothing once you get them running. At least, that's the thinking behind hospitals that are starting to use autonomous robots to transport goods throughout the building.

"In the era of relentless cost-cutting, hospital executives would much rather have cost-efficient robots roaming around the hospital with secure carts of linens, lab specimens and meals, than expensive staff.

"Pittsburgh, PA-based Aethon has such a robot, the TUG (above), which navigates a hospital using a digital map of the building. Each TUG robot is equipped with a matrix of light whiskers to detect people and obstacles. Those 'light whiskers' are made up of sonar, infrared and laser technologies for sensing capabilities in any situation...."

The Discovery News article includes this YouTube video:

"Fenway the TUG robot at the West Roxbury VA Hospital"

metrounit, YouTube (May 28, 2008)

"The VA Hospital in West Roxbury recently acquired three TUG robots, Fenway, Lulu, and Roxanne, that deliver medications to the various units within the hospital. This short clip shows how Fenway goes about his rounds."

The Fenway video is a little over two years old - and delivery robots are much older than that. What's important, in the Lemming's view, is that folks are accepting the idea of letting robots do the sort of 'no brainer' tasks they're good at.

What's impressive is that Fenway apparently actually is a "robot" - a machine with artificial intelligence, not a waldo that uses a human being as its control system. The "light whiskers" are an interesting feature, too: Fenway can't 'see' the way we do, but is able to keep from bumping into things and people.

We're still a long, long way from R2D2 and C3PO: but Fenway is still impressive.

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