Researchers, in conjunction with hospital employees, are attempting to design and create a robot that will help hospital employees with the time-consuming and cumbersome task of cleaning patients’ beds.
The project, which is being conducted at Odense University Hospital (OUH) is a collaboration of researchers from the Danish Technology Institute, OUH, Danish Company Technicon and DTU Compute. The researchers are aiming to alleviate the workload of overtaxed hospital employees by employing robots in the transporting of hospital beds in need of washing to automatic washing stations on site. However, researchers are concerned that while the robots may save employees time, they could also create more hazards en route to their destinations.
“Our focus is on wireless communication and safety. Mobile robots have been around for some time, but it’s difficult when there are so many safety considerations. We must ensure that the robots are fully integrated, and that they stop immediately when necessary,” explains Professor Paul Pop from DTU Compute, who is the scientific coordinator for the project.
“The robots must be equipped with sensors. For example cameras, or a type of bumper which, when it registers something nearby, brings the robot to a halt. How this might work in practice is something we are still working to clarify,” he explains.
One solution, according to researchers may mimic the algorithms in self-driving cars teaching them to avoid collisions.
“DTU researchers are having to develop and formulate all the rules for how the robots must react and navigate. No one, of course, must be run over when the beds are being transported to and from the wards. When a trauma patient arrives at the hospital in an emergency situation, everyone, both patients and staff, must stand to one side. This is natural for people, but something which the robots have to learn; they need to be able to make ethical decisions when faced by situations where accidents can happen, and this is, of course, a big challenge,” says said OUH Academic Officer Erik Møller Nielsen.
Once the safety concerns are addressed and the robots are transporting beds, researchers believe there will be significant savings for taxpayers.
“At a hospital, the situation is that each bed needs washing every time a patient is discharged, and at the moment the beds are cleaned by hand up on the wards. We wash several hundred beds every day, which equates to about nine FTEs,” said Erik Møller Nielsen.
Researchers will continue to develop the robots with an eye toward safety and will begin testing them in the basement of the hospital where it will be unlikely to encounter human obstacles.