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Healthcare is facing a severe labor shortage, so the demand for innovative solutions is on the rise. Robotics is an obvious place to look for help, but hospitals are intricate ecosystems that present a myriad of challenges to mobile robots. From automated and manual doors to beds, wheelchairs, various carts, and IV poles, the hospital setting demands a level of adaptability and maneuverability that goes beyond the capabilities of many existing robots.
To evaluate the feasibility of robot assistance for the labor shortage, one major hospital system created an obstacle course filled with all the challenges that it was concerned that robots might not be able to handle. Relay was the first robot to try the obstacle course.
The obstacle course simulated a hospital environment filled with obstacles ranging from steep ramps and overhanging obstacles to mobile IV poles, towels on the floor, cords, elevator thresholds, and narrow doorways. The goal was to challenge mobile robots to navigate through these obstacles seamlessly, mimicking the real-life hurdles they might encounter within a hospital.
Highlights of Relay’s success
In the fall of 2023, Relay Robotics sent a Relay to attempt the challenge. Within an astonishing 2.5 hours of unpacking the robot, the company not only faced, but also conquered every obstacle presented in the course. Here are some highlights:
- “Wheelchair chicken:” Passing a moving wheelchair in a narrow corridor without bumping or startling the rider
- Steep ramps: Ascending and descending steep ramps with a load of two cases of soda weighing 25 lb.
- Overhanging obstacles: Maneuvering around drawers hanging out of medical supply cabinets
- Mobile IV poles: Navigating through the dynamic environment created by mobile intravenous poles
- Towels on the floor: Overcoming challenges presented by unexpected items such as towels on the floor
- Cords and other floor obstacles: Displaying agility in driving over cords and other obstacles
- Elevator threshold: Successfully crossing the threshold of an elevator
- Narrow doorways: Squeezing through a narrow doorway measuring just 32 in.
- Alerts: Playing a pre-specified sound at certain regions along the route to alert bystanders of its presence.
This hospital obstacle course provided a glimpse into the future of healthcare, where robotics seamlessly integrate into the daily operations of hospitals. Relay’s navigation through the challenging course, along with tens of successful deployments in real healthcare situations, demonstrates that mobile robots are ready and able to help alleviate labor shortages and enhance efficiency in healthcare settings.
Editor’s note: This article is syndicated with permission from Relay Robotics’ LinkedIn.