Industrial robots finding new roles in hospitals
ABB has opened its first global healthcare research hub on the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus in Houston, Texas, showcasing a number of concept technologies — including a mobile YuMi robot, which will be designed to assist medical and laboratory staff with laboratory and logistics tasks in hospitals.
The dual-arm mobile YuMi will be able to sense and navigate its way around its human co-workers autonomously, while learning to find different routes from one location to another. It has the potential to undertake a wide range of repetitive and time-consuming activities, including preparation of medicines, loading and unloading centrifuges, pipetting and handling liquids, and picking up and sorting test tubes.
The mobile YuMi could also be used in hospitals for a wide variety of logistics roles. YuMi may be able to dispense medicines, transport them to where they are needed in hospitals, and bring medical supplies to hospital staff and bed linen direct to patients’ bedrooms.
At the TMC Innovation Institute, ABB will develop robots that are able to carry out repetitive, delicate and mundane processes, leaving highly skilled medical and laboratory staff free to undertake more valuable roles and ultimately treat more patients. ABB analysis shows that repetitive tasks could be completed up to 50% faster with automation, compared to current manual processes, with the added benefit that robots can work 24 hours a day.
“The healthcare sector is undergoing significant transformation as the diagnosis and treatment of disease advances, while coping with an ageing population, increasing costs and a growing worldwide shortage of medical staff,” said Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation business. “With our new healthcare research and development hub at TMC we are aiming to develop answers to these challenges — together with the best minds in academia, science and medicine.
“Our experience in industrial and collaborative robotics will give us a strong basis to be able to adapt flexible automation to the healthcare sector,” he continued. “Together with our partners at TMC, we will develop cutting-edge robotics solutions. We are working to reduce the number of manual procedures performed by medical staff, improve the accuracy of laboratory work, and enhance patient satisfaction and ultimately patient safety.”
Other technologies showcased by ABB at the Healthcare Research Hub include YuMi robots that could aid in centrifuge tending and test tube handling systems, and an IRB 1200 robot that could execute liquid transfers in a pipetting application. All are common medical laboratory tasks that robotic automation may be able to support by combining consistent performance with a level of flexibility and continuous operation that could increase throughput and quality while minimising costs.
“Texas Medical Center, TMC Innovation and the entire TMC network of member institutions are pleased to welcome ABB on the occasion of its first foray into the healthcare space with this incredible and unprecedented new robotics facility,” said Bill McKeon, President and CEO of Texas Medical Center. “A primary goal across TMC — the largest medical city in the world — is to make research happen faster while simultaneously cutting costs in order to create more rapid and cost-effective solutions for patients who are in desperate need of treatment.”
Robotic automation in the healthcare sector offers significant opportunity for future growth. According to internal ABB research, the global market is estimated to reach nearly 60,000 non-surgical medical robots by 2025 — a fourfold increase from 2018.
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