The NHS is trialling robot support staff through a partnership with the British AI startup Academy of Robotics.
Staff at the Milton Keynes University Hospital have been working with the Academy of Robotics to trial an automated assistant, called Helper Bot, which aims to relieve the significant workload faced by NHS workers.
The trial began in November 2022, when the NHS robot was trained to autonomously navigate the hospital. Work has continued into 2023, which will see the penguin-shaped robotic assistant deliver medicine across various routes throughout the hospital.
“We are working with the Academy of Robotics team to introduce new technology that can work alongside our existing workforce to facilitate faster delivery and take some of the pressure off our teams,” said Joe Harrison, chief executive at Milton Keynes University Hospital.
“This trial is an opportunity to test the safety and efficacy of this technology and we will continue to work closely with all teams involved to understand how it can be most effectively utilised in the future.”
Academy of Robotics is a Norwich-based startup known for its driverless vehicle, the Kar-Go, a pod-shaped car controlled by AI for the purpose of delivering packages. In 2017, the company raised almost £300,000 in a crowdfunding campaign on the website Crowdcube.
The company had previously been testing the Helper Bot at its R&D facility located in a Cold War nuclear bunker at the decommissioned RAF Neatishead site in Norfolk.
“How people feel when they interact with technology is also particularly important in a hospital,” said William Sachiti, founder and CEO of Academy of Robotics.
“These Helper Bots are there to try and make life that little bit easier for both hospital staff and patients: to be there when needed and out of the way when they are not.”
Sachiti added: “It is our hope that this technology will offer a positive experience for all and we’ll continue to test and improve both the technology and experience it creates as we scale up the programme.”