Hospital robots performing more blue-collar tasks

Robots already have a powerful presence in surgical suites, ICUs and even emergency departments nationwide, but they're likely to expand dramatically, and in some new parts of the hospital in the year ahead, according to a story in this week's Wall Street Journal.

The article projects that thousands of "service robots" will find their ways into your hospital corridors, performing a host of menial tasks from delivering linens and medications. WSJ estimates there are about 1,000 robots in hospitals now, but quotes an industry source as predicting that 10 times that number could be in service in five years.

A few of the possibilities include:

iRobot's Ava medical robot: iRobot, the creator of the popular Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, recently bought a stake in telemedicine-robot maker InTouch Health, and is looking to push the telehealth robots beyond the 400 hospitals the company now has as clients. The Ava system operates under a physicians' control, and allows him or her to videoconference with patients even when off hospital grounds, WSJ reports.

Aethon's TUG robot: This 55-pound device--capable of towing up to 500 pounds--delivers food trays, supplies, medical records and more throughout about 100 hospitals, according to company statements. It stays out of the way of busy hospital staff and visitors by way of a GPS locator and motion sensors, WSJ explains. One client hospital tells WSJ that staff like the robots, generally, as does the administration, which was able to save the cost of six full-time employees by leasing the robots.

Xenex disinfection robot:. We told you a couple of months ago about Austin start-up Xenex, whose eponymous robot disinfects hospital rooms with ultra-violet radiation, after they've been hand-cleaned by staff, according to a story at CNN.com in January. The story reports positive results, with a 67 percent drop in Clostridium difficile infections at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Northampton, Mass.

To learn more:
- read the Wall Street Journal article

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