Scottish hospital pioneers robot staff

A Scottish hospital is taking its healthcare into the realms of sci-fi by using a fleet of robots to carry out everyday tasks.

Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, is said to be the first hospital in the UK to use such machines to deliver and retrieve a wide range of supplies.

Trials are currently being carried out to test their efficiency before the hospital opens its doors to patients at the beginning of August 2010. The new self guided vehicles will not only mean patients and visitors can walk along corridors free of bulky trolleys, but will also help cut down the risks of infection and free up support staff from routine deliveries.

The five foot tall robots, which disappointingly resemble mini fork lift trucks and not C3PO, will trundle between wards carrying bed linen, meals, clinical waste and medical supplies. Although they are fully automated, the hospital says there’s no chance of a collision with people as the machines will glide unseen along separate corridors behind the scenes.

It also claims that because the robots allow the movement of goods to be hidden from view, they will also provide a calmer, less cluttered environment although we think they could unsettle patients rather than help them. 

Ian Mullen, Chairman of NHS Forth Valley, said: “The new Forth Valley Royal Hospital is the largest healthcare project ever constructed in Scotland and from the very beginning we set out to ensure that it would be one of the most modern and well equipped hospitals in Europe.

“To help achieve this our staff researched the very latest technology available and looked at how similar robotic supply systems were being used in hospitals in places like France and Japan. Having seen the difference these systems made to patients, staff and visitors we were determined to bring this technology back to Scotland to benefit patients from across Forth Valley.”

The robots use laser technology to find their way around. The technology is similar to that already used in car plants and industrial shop floors as well as in hospitals in some parts of Europe and the USA.  The machines will be loaded and unloaded in a basement area and make their deliveries to wards via a number of special lifts with separate flows for clean and dirty goods, to minimise the risk of cross contamination.

If a robot fails, an electric vehicle can be summoned to tug the robot out of trouble. And should there be problems with one particular lift the robots can be re-routed through a special sensor system, but that’s what they said about SkyNet.  There will also be a fleet of 13 separate robots to help meet demand during peak periods and provide back-up, if required.

It also seems that there will be a fully robotic pharmacy system, capable of labelling medicines as well as stocking supplies and picking up drugs. Sounds like a dream come true for paranoid dealers. Robotic equipment will also be used to clean the hospital’s 16 hi-tech operating theatres.

We asked the hospital who would clean these robots and how much this would cost. However, it would not comment. 

Earlier this week Hitachi announced a roller-skating humanoid robot called EMIEW2. The bot can rollerskate over uneven surfaces, and respond to your voice commands, such as “Help! The hospital robots have gone haywire!”