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Meet your new colleague—a robot

Heavy and strenuous tasks are increasingly being taken over by robots, and most of us will soon have one or several robot colleagues. At Karolinska University Hospital’s new premises in Solna, where Coor manages operations, 29 robots transport materials and hospital waste.

The 29 robots, known as AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles), transport trolleys containing sheets, clothing, drugs and consumables between hospital wards. The robots also collect hospital waste and take it to waste management stations.

“Some of the trollies the robots operate weigh up to 500 kilos, which significantly reduces the burden on hospital staff. The robots also collect and remove hospital waste so that staff don’t need to handle it,” commented Nicholas Fernholm, Logistics Developer at Coor with responsibility for the hospital’s robot operations.
“Around four robots bring the necessary equipment to theatre during surgical procedures,” he explains, while showing us around the extensive hospital site.

The AGVs are based in the technology center below the hospital, which is where all deliveries arrive. After goods have been unloaded from trucks they are automatically collected by robots running on pre-programmed tracks throughout the hospital.
“The robots mainly operate in areas with limited staff numbers. AGVs have dedicated elevators that they communicate with through wifi, which means they avoid disturbing patients and healthcare personnel,” commented Nicholas Fernholm.

The robots sense obstacles in their path and stop if they encounter one. If someone steps out in front of a robot, it will beep and say: “You’re in the way, please move.” Once the robot has reached the right floor, it unloads its contents in a room next to the ward. Robots can work for up to 20 hours before charging and sense when they need to find a charging station.

Nicholas Fernholm explains that many hospital employees have developed a relationship with the robots.
“We tend to humanize robots, because they remind us of ourselves. Generally, people are happy to see them gliding along and I’ve overheard members of staff say “That’s my favorite!”

He believes that robots will be carrying out more of the strenuous work in the future, although they won’t be able to operate independently for some time yet.
“At the moment, robots are fairly unintelligent and can only do what they’re programmed to do. If scientists are able to create robots with artificial general intelligence (AGI), they will quickly become a part of our society, and may even take over. But that’s a long way into the future! I’ve heard it said that a robot with artificial general intelligence will be man’s final innovation,” Nicholas Fernholm laughs.