Humans and robots working side by side in the hospital of the future

With the world’s population rapidly aging and a growing worldwide shortage of medical staff, the healthcare sector is facing significant challenges. ABB has opened its first global healthcare research hub on the Texas Medical Center campus, the world’s largest medical city, and showcased a number of concept technologies designed to assist medical and laboratory staff with laboratory and logistics tasks in hospitals.

Each year, 10 million patients are treated in the Texas Medical Center (TMC) in Houston including 750,000 visits to the emergency room, more than 180,000 surgeries are performed and over 25,000 babies delivered. This overwhelming number of patients and treatments requires the highest level of efficiency and speed from the TMC’s employees, without compromising the accuracy of laboratory work. As the home of over 60 institutions including the world’s largest children hospital and the world’s largest cancer hospital it also requires a high level of cross-institutional collaboration. All of this makes the TMC the ideal partner to house ABB’s first global healthcare research hub, where 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 laboratory robot concepts will be designed to carry out repetitive, delicate and mundane processes alongside humans, leaving highly skilled medical and laboratory staff free to undertake more valuable roles and ultimately treat more patients.
  • ABB’s concept mobile laboratory robot tending a centrifuge alongside human co-workers

ABB’s new healthcare research hub, housed at the TMC Innovation Institute, is a state-of-the-art hub with an area of 5,300 sq ft (500m2) that fosters collaboration of medicine and cutting-edge technology, connecting start-ups with pioneers in academia and leading technology companies in order to accelerate the development and prototyping of breakthrough medical technology. At TMC, ABB will develop non-surgical medical robotics systems, designed to assist the medical and laboratory staff and with the potential to undertake a wide range of laboratory and logistics activities in hospital. Potentially, these systems could reduce the number of manual procedures performed by medical staff, improve the accuracy of laboratory work and enhance patient satisfaction and ultimately patient safety.

An example of a concept technology showcased at ABB’s healthcare research hub is ABB’s mobile dual-arm YuMi® that will be able sense and navigate its way around its human co-workers autonomously, while learning to find different routes from one location to another.

  • ABB’s mobile and autonomous YuMi® laboratory robot concept will be designed to work alongside medical staff and lab workers
  • ABB’s mobile and autonomous YuMi® laboratory robot concept could dispense medicines and transport them to where they are needed in hospitals

Repetitive and time-consuming activities that could potentially be handled by the mobile YuMi® include the preparation of medicines, loading and unloading centrifuges, pipetting and handling liquids and picking up and sorting test tubes. Other technologies showcased by ABB at the healthcare research hub include 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 minimizing costs.

Additionally, 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, bring medical supplies to hospital staff and bed linen direct to patients’ bedrooms.

ABB and the Texas Medical Center are at the forefront of life sciences innovation and now poised to bring the power of robotics and automation to medicine. An analysis conducted by ABB shows that repetitive tasks could be completed up to 50 per cent faster with automation compared to current manual processes, with the added benefit that robots can work 24 hours a day. The global market for robotic automation is estimated to grow significantly, reaching nearly 60,000 non-surgical medical robots by 2025, a fourfold increase from 2018.


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