Panasonic’s autonomous delivery robot HOSPI will be deployed in South Korean hospitals beginning this May. Panasonic Electric Works have been developing the robots with the Shiga University of Medical Science Hospital since 1998, with the first robots being field tested in 2002. The robots have been in active use in Japanese hospitals since 2006. The HOSPI robots come in a variety of form factors, built to deliver 20kg (44 lbs) of food, linens, medicine, documents, blood samples, and X-ray films, etc.. Patients’ confidentiality is protected by a Personal Identification Number. Traveling at a rate of up to 1 meter per second, the robots save nurses the trouble of traveling back and forth all the time.
Naturally safety is a major concern, so HOSPI has a camera with face recognition and human silhouette detection technology which allows it to yield when it encounters a stretcher and slow to a halt when someone approaches it directly. It autonomously avoids patients, furniture, and even slim IV drip stands using a laser range finder. A total of 29 ultrasonic sensors are used, and combined with the laser range finder can accurately detect and avoid large piped structures such as hospital beds without fail. Additionally, the robot is synchronized with the fire alarm and detection systems, which direct the robot to an out-of-way spot (away from emergency exits) should the need arise.
Rather than running on existing metal rail floor systems which have serious drawbacks (such as construction costs), the robots are equipped with cameras that detect infrared markers attached to the ceiling, which are used for navigation. This, along with its elevator boarding function, were adapted from cleaning robots. Even better still, HOSPI’s remote operation software is compatible with standard computers, allowing staff to check the location and status of a robot on a digital map and command it when needed.
The standard HOSPI model stands 130.5cm (4’3″) tall, and weighs 120kg (264 lbs), with a battery life of more than 7 hours (with a charging time of 8 hours). Thanks to its long operational life and autonomous charging functions, hospitals with multiple robots can run them 24 hours a day. In 2007 Panasonic was awarded the “Japan Machinery Federation President Award” as part of the Robots of the Year Awards for their blood sample transfer robot. HOSPI is only one example of Panasonic’s commitment in this sector, see also Panasonic’s Future Outlook on Robotics and Health Care.
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