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OMAHA, NE, UNITED STATES

07.17.2018

Story by Jennifer Scales 

Omaha VA Medical Center  

Well, to put this into perspective, there are men behind the scenes, but the Tug’s are actively in the forefront and involved in helping the staff of the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System,

As these medical, robotic, automatons make their way onto elevators, up and down the walking areas, they are really and truly making a difference within the confines of the medical center.

Jason Junge, a biomedical equipment support specialist at Omaha VAMC, explains how they function. “They support the facility by delivering logistical items and lab samples, to name a few. Plus, they can work 24 hours a day, which saves on man-hours, in the long run,” Junge said. “They are battery powered and will return to their respective docking station when their deliveries are complete.”

Testing around the facility with the Tugs has been going on since early July, getting out the glitches and potential problems that may arise, but the laboratory Tugs are live and working, noted Tom Billotte, a contractor with Aethon from Pennsylvania. “The outpatient lab Tugs have been doing their job which has included making deliveries to and from hematology and histology areas.”

As humans walk the hallways and use elevators, the Tugs are quite aware of their presence. “The robots are patient. They will stop and pause if they sense that a person is in their space, no matter how long it takes,” said Billotte.

Okay, so they don’t climb stairs, but they do the next best thing. Tugs will call the elevator by way of their wireless network, and presto! They get on and self-adjust themselves so they are facing the exit when their floor arrives for them to disembark.

The robot Tug has a map of the facility in its network so it will remain in the building. They will not go outside, no matter what kind of enticement a person may use on them.

Though the Tugs are new to the Omaha VAMC, they are not to the VA network. As a matter of fact, according to Billotte, they can be found at other VA’s in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Houston, and New York.

Tugs can also be some of the best workers for at least three good reasons: they don’t need a salary; they don’t take smoke breaks; and they don’t get tired.

Tugs with the cage attachments can carry around at least 900 pounds at one time, compared to what a human can roll around in a cart.

It’s a misconception that Tugs are replacing employees. “For instance, when it comes to carrying heavy items around, they save on many push-pull injuries that employees may get,” Junge said.

Junge also mentioned plans for making them more personal. “Once we get all of them operating, we will be giving each of the Tugs their own special name. And as the holidays approach, we could even adorn them with seasonal decorations.”

Marine Corps Veteran Bernard Fritz, was in the facility as a Tug was making one of its deliveries. “I think that is pretty neat. We’re heading for the ‘George Jetson’ age, getting all modern and stuff,” Fritz said.

 

 

Aethon