Panasonic has been working on this particular problem for the past few years. In early 2010, nurses and pharmacists complained that their work was being constantly interrupted whenever drugs had to be delivered. Beginning with just two robots to help out during the night shift, soon the robots were working 24/7. Finally, after more than two years of experimental use at the Matsushita Memorial Hospital, the robots are ready to go pro.
The main benefit of the HOSPI-R is its autonomous navigation capabilities. Whereas many automation systems rely on obtrusive rail systems or other delineated routes, the HOSPI-R navigates using just its onboard sensors. When compared with conventional rail systems, Panasonic's system implementation costs reduce to between 25 and 50 percent (and maintenance costs are reduced to 20 percent).
A map of the building is programmed in advance, which it uses to plan its route. If the route changes because an extension is built onto existing facilities, the system is flexible enough to handle it, and the robot can even take the elevators automatically. If, along the way, it encounters obstacles during its trip, such as a person in a wheelchair, the robot automatically adjusts its route using its sensors.
As you might expect, the HOSPI-R also has some security features to prevent tampering, damage, and theft of the drugs and samples it is tasked with delivering. An automatically locking door on its storage container opens with ID cards, and liquids (such as chemical or urine samples) are kept in a stable position to limit foaming. The robot's gradual acceleration and deceleration also helps to ensure a smooth trip from start to finish.
The robot can carry up to 20 kg (44 lb), and moves at a maximum speed of 1 meter per second (2.2 mph). It can work up to seven hours before needing to be recharged, which takes about eight hours, so a team of robots on rotation can work 24 hours a day.
Panasonic did not reveal specific pricing, as that will vary depending on the needs of each facility.