The TUG robot, and the company that makes it—Aethon—is the creation of a group of engineers and a man, Aethon CEO Aldo Zini, who saw the robot's potential as a high-tech hospital worker that could move medicine, food, test samples, and even laundry from floor to floor quickly, effectively, and autonomously.
Simply put, the TUG is a transporter, taking items from here to there inside a hospital—items as precious as cancer drugs that cost thousands of dollars per pill, as noxious as medical waste, as delicious as trays of meals, and as cumbersome as 200 pounds of laundry. Hospital staff deploy the TUG units from a touch screen at their "bay" where they are stored, waiting in their charging stations. They can also be summoned and tracked via a Web interface. Once the items are loaded into the cart and secured, the TUG unit is off on its journey, riding elevators, navigating hallways—careful not to bump into walls, patients, or nurses speed-walking on their rounds. They perform a necessary function, a function that used to pull valuable doctors, nurses, and researchers away from their primary duties, wasting untold man hours.
The main part of a TUG unit is essentially a motorized autonomous robot mounted to a secured cart. Physically a TUG looks like a granddaddy Roomba, measuring 7.25 by 20 inches (HW) and weighing 55 pounds. Its body is made of high-impact, abrasion-resistant ABS plastic. It is driven by two 24 VDC (volts of direct current) motors and four standard 12-volt lead-acid batteries.
TUG can detect people and objects using a matrix of "light whiskers" that employ sonar, infrared, and laser technologies. Its onboard computer (with custom-made motherboards and Intel processors) stores an AutoCAD map of the hospital to help it get around. In terms of securing TUG's payload and the robots themselves, Zini says that the robots are more safe and reliable than human messengers. The cabinet on a TUG unit requires thumbprint identification and a key code to get inside. The robots are monitored 24-7 with onboard cameras. If anyone tried to remove a TUG from the hospital, it would immediately trigger an alarm.