MORIGUCHI, Osaka Prefecture--Consumer electronics giant Panasonic Corp. is marketing a second generation of its Hospi autonomous drug-delivery robot for hospitals after its first attempt ended in failure.
Panasonic introduced the original Hospi model in 2004, but it sold only two units.
“We simply failed to grasp the needs of hospitals,” said Yukihiko Kitano, the manager of the Hospi development team at Panasonic Production Engineering Co.
The robotic system is designed to carry out routine errands, such as medicine delivery around hospitals, to give nurses and doctors more time to focus on patients. The new Hospi went on sale in October last year.
Cost-cutting efforts at the Matsushita Memorial Hospital in Moriguchi, Osaka Prefecture, operated by Panasonic’s in-company health insurance union, gave the robot a second chance.
Panasonic engineers in 2010 started to study how best to meet the needs of the hospital and its staff in the development of a more user-friendly and cost-effective robot.
“What was important for us was not to just develop a sophisticated and extremely advanced robot, but also to find existing problems at hospitals that only robots can offer solutions to,” Kitano said.
As a result of that research, the newer Hospi can accommodate whole medicine trays and is equipped with side lamps to avoid surprising patients at night.
To improve the robot’s safety, a collision-prevention program was redeveloped from scratch.
The new Hospi can use an elevator on its own. It also makes avoidance moves after sensing people and objects several meters ahead in hallways. Elevators in the hospital also notify patients if the elevator they are waiting for is occupied by a delivery robot.
The Matsushita Memorial Hospital now has five Hospi units. They can carry up to 20 kilograms of medicine, documents and other items while moving at a maximum speed of 3.6 kph.
Using a touchscreen, pharmacists only need to enter the destination of the medicine and other items. The robot then decides the path it will take.
For convenience, a light indicates their arrival at nursing stations.
The robot reduces delivery times by one-third because nurses no longer need to first travel to the pharmacy before returning to the patients with the medicine, company officials said.
The hospital used to use pneumatic dispatch tubes for such deliveries. But maintaining the system cost more than 1 million yen ($9,780) per month.
Each robot costs 10 million yen. And even though it costs several tens of millions of yen to outfit the hospitals for the Hospi system, the total cost is still half that of pneumatic delivery tube and other conventional medicine delivery systems.
The maintenance costs are also about one-fifth that of conventional systems, Panasonic officials said.
The electronics maker is currently negotiating sales of the Hospi system with hospitals in 15 prefectures. It has set a sales goal of 1 billion yen in fiscal 2015.
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