You aren’t seeing things. That cart is moving itself ... sort of.
Rosie, Hal, R2-D2 and WALL-E, four TUG autonomous mobile delivery robots from Pittsburgh-based Aethon, have been roaming around Kettering Medical Center for more than three weeks now.
David Starkey, Kettering Health Network’s director of materials management and biomedical engineering, said the robots serve as “assistive staff” to the 22 members of his materials team at the hospital.
The robots are named for pop culture robots: Rosie from “The Jetsons,” R2-D2 from the “Star Wars” series, Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Wall-E from the film the Disney film “WALL-E.”
The robots are decorated with oversized eyelashes, googly eyes and lush eyebrows that are far more than on fleek.
“The (materials and nutrition) staff named them, and they had kind of a fun time doing that,” Starkey said. “The staff is enjoying this.”
Last week alone, the robots made 650 deliveries and traveled more than 110 miles using a sensor mapping system that is unseen by human eyes.
“That’s a lot of tennis shoe time. What we are doing is trying to make (staff members’) jobs better,” Starkey told us. “We can have them doing other things rather than making so many trips through the hospital.”
Each robot costs about $1,400 a month, can plug itself in for recharging and can work up to 20 hours a day.
The cost to the hospital is about $2 or $3 each an hour.
Thus far, the TUGs are used to deliver supplies ranging from Band-Aids to bedding to the main hospital’s five floors and the five-story Kettering Cancer Center.
Those facilities are linked by a sky bridge which the robots navigate. They can also call elevators to use on their delivery rounds and sense objects in their path.
“They can do deliveries in a couple of different ways,” Starkey said. “(We can deliver carts) with bins of supplies for actually stocking the nursing units, or we can send up supplies with individual bins that are labeled with a unit name. It will actually deliver it right to their nurse’s station.”
The robots will be even busier soon.
In a matter of weeks, the hospital plans to start using the robots to deliver food to floors, said Cheryl Shimmin, the network director of nutrition services for Kettering Health Network.
Floor ambassadors will be used to deliver food to patient rooms. Shimmin said that the hope is to better serve patients and to reduce staff injuries.
“The TUGs make it easier on the employees,” she said.
Kettering is the first hospital in the region to have us TUGs, but Starkey said they can be found in about 400 medical facilities throughout the country delivering supplies, food and equipment.
Kettering, which has eight hospitals plus the cancer center, plans to introduce TUGs next in Soin Medical Center in Beavercreek.
Starkey learned about the TUG on the Internet while plans were underway for the cancer center, which opened in 2016.
Some hospital leaders thought Starkey and Shimmin were joking when they introduced the idea of using robots to make delivers. They soon realized how robots can be useful, Starkey said.
The robots are monitored by computer in the materials department, and if they get stuck in a jam, can be moved remotely by Aethon.
The first week they were introduced, they carried chocolate for nurses along with the supplies delivers. Starkey said nurses might also find a surprise for Valentine’s Day, as well.
So far, he said the robots have been big hits with hospital visitors. Their whimsical names have helped give them personality.
“Everybody wanted to take a picture with them,” Starkey said. “They really like Rosie because she has the eyelashes.”