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Penguin-like bot named Milton transports medicines in English hospital

A helper robot uses driverless car technology to navigate the hospital’s hallways. It even has its own badge.

Milton was built in cooperation between the Milton Keynes University Hospital (MKUH) and the Academy of Robotics, a London-based artificial intelligence company. It can deliver medicines, specimens and clinical supplies from one point of the hospital to the other, speeding up the logistics and relieving pressure on staff.

The “first-of-its-kind” trial started in November and will continue in 2023, the MKUH said. As part of the trial, the helper bot will learn to navigate safely between the hospital’s pharmacy and selected in-patient wards. Milton covers some of the longest hospital routes.

“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 utilized in the future,” Prof. Joe Harrison, MKUH’s chief executive, said.

Milton has a compartment in the front that keeps medicines to be delivered to the patients. The design of the robot was selected by hospital staff via workshops with the Academy of Robotics. The name was picked in an internal vote.

Milton runs on software based on the technology the Academy of Robotics used for Kar-go, its self-driving electric vehicle. Kar-go was one of the first autonomous vehicles deployed on UK roads. It was also put to public use when it delivered medicines to people’s homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company’s engineers drew on several systems developed for Kar-go to help Milton navigate the hospital environment, where it has learned to go around obstacles such as people, wheelchairs, and beds.

“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,” said the Academy of Robotics founder and CEO William Sachiti.

Milton adds to a list of automations and new processes introduced at the MKUH, including a surgical robot to aid complex surgeries and AI-powered medical imaging.

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