It’s unclear how patients will rate the bedside manner of these new hospital staff in Japan’s Nagoya University Hospital, but in terms of these robots’ ability to attend to patients at all hours of the day, there should be no question. Robots, who have made themselves useful in restaurants, in supermarkets, and in our homes, are now going into our hospitals as well.
In Japan, these bots will begin operations in February, where they’ll be tasked with delivering medicine, testing samples, and going from floor to floor to attend to patients in the hope of cutting down on the amount of work nurses and other staff must do at all hours of the night.
In total, four robots will be deployed for night shifts that run from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. They’ll be moving among the hospital’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit, Department of Hospital Pharmacy, and Department of Clinical Laboratory, helping to deliver intravenous fluids, test samples, and more.
Overnight, there are fewer human employees at the hospital, and as such, more work for the robots to do. For starters, the bots will be working on a trial basis, though if they prove themselves particularly useful after the first year, hospital officials might decide to deploy more of them in the hospital wards.
The technology behind these robotic hospital workers closely resembles the tech driving autonomous vehicles. After all, the robots were developed in part by Toyota Industries, an affiliate of Toyota Motor, in partnership with Nagoya University. Robots will have pre-programmed routes based on hospital floor plans (though registered workers can also use a tablet to summon a robot and provide it with directions and instructions), and will make use of mounted radar devices and cameras that will give them a 360-degree field of vision.
If they run into an obstacle, the bot will either adjust its course on its own, or say (to humans), “Excuse me, please let me pass.” The bots are even capable of riding elevators to get from floor to floor.
Naoki Ishiguro, director of the hospital, noted that these bots can reduce the amount of time humans spend on more menial tasks, which can help “ensure that nurses and other professionals can concentrate more on their primary duties.”