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Tech spot #1 – Robot porters, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

Tuesday 28 Apr 2015

Are robots set to change the shape of hospitals to come?

Tech spot #1 – Robot porters by WAN Editorial in Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom
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Efficient, discreet, and very strong: the new robot porters 

Could architects be increasingly required to design new hospitals with robot porters in mind? The latest hospital to introduce automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) to its workforce is the recently opened £842 million New South Glasgow Hospital in Scotland.

The AGVs were originally ordered from global logistics solutions company, Swisslog, back in 2012. This was at the request of human porters who asked that an efficient way of moving heavy goods around the new 166,000 sq m, 14-storey hospital be found.

Now the fleet of 26 AGVs has just started operating in concrete tunnels designed for them to travel along beneath the hospital. They then access the required floor via dedicated lifts which are separated for clean and dirty goods, and do not travel around public corridors spooking the patients.

Costing £50,000 a piece, each AGV stands at a diminutive 10 inches high, but can carry up to half a tonne at a time.  They will be on trial for one month, but according to the hospital’s facilities manager, Jim Magee, staff are already warming to their efficiency even though initially they were wary.

Three AGVs wait at each pick-up point, and when summoned they collect their load and then move via lift to deliver their cargo – be that linen, food, medical supplies or waste – then return to their waiting station. They are programmed to go into ‘sleep’ mode when idle, and automatically go to charging points when their batteries are running low. They are also programmed to communicate with each other and the control room. The AVGs can be controlled via desktop computer or remote laptop.

The New South Glasgow Hospital has appointed 26 extra staff to operate the fleet, however it is estimated that the new team of robots will do the work of 40 people – a net saving. In an article in the UK’s Times newspaper, Magee also points out the health and safety benefits for staff, as injuries are common when moving heavy trolleys around a vast area such as a hospital.

The New South Glasgow Hospital is not the first to adopt this type of technology. Also in Scotland, the Forth Valley Royal Hospital was the first in the UK to use robot porters back in 2010. Elsewhere on the Continent, AGVs have worked so well at Motol University Hospital in Prague, Czech Republic, that in 2012 it increased its fleet by 10.

Mike Burke of E&K Automation who supplied the Motol University Hospital with its AGVs, made an interesting point in an interview in The Engineer magazine in 2012, saying: “I have tried to get people interested in AGV networks in Britain, but we don’t build hospitals over here like they do on the Continent.

“The UK tends to build hospitals with large footprints and low-level hospitals; whereas on the Continent they build tall hospitals with a small footprint, which means all the services can be put in the basement and things can be moved predominantly in lifts.”

It seems that the design of UK hospitals may now be starting to change accordingly…

Click here for a full list of previous Tech Spots.

Gail Taylor

Features editor

WAN Editorial

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