The TUG robots are coming

Since 2008, UNC Hospitals has utilized TUG robots in the laboratory, which make deliveries inside and outside the lab. On Jan. 29, 2018, our fleet of autonomous mobile robots will begin to grow, eventually reaching a total of 18. These TUG robots will assist our support services teams with delivery activities.

These TUGs utilize Autonomous Mobile Robot technology developed by Aethon. Because the robots have been so successful in the lab we are expanding their use to assist our support services across the hospital. The TUGs have been an invaluable resource in the lab and we look forward to expanding our use of this resource across the Medical Center. The expansion will begin with support for Nutrition and Food Services next week; more services will be added in the coming weeks, including Environmental Services, Med/Surg Supplies, soiled linen pickup and clean linen delivery.

The TUGs, which have been mapped to the hospital’s floor plan and are able to open doors and call elevators, will assist these departments with delivery activities, enabling them to better distribute their critical employee resources, improve both their departmental efficiency and the efficiency and satisfaction of the nurses with which they interact. This is how we have been utilizing the TUGs for quite some time, and as we expand our fleet from 2 to 18 robots, we are excited to bring this added convenience and efficiency to even more of our co-workers.

By allowing us to automate deliveries and other services, the TUG will free support staff to perform other tasks. Our goal is to help free the clinical staff to spend more time concentrating on providing care to their patients, and will give support services more time to consult units about their needs and see to other responsibilities, which may include:

  • NFS – ensuring that patients are satisfied with the food they are receiving and providing the highest possible customer service.
  • Pharmacy – checking expiration dates on goods and ordering supplies.
  • EVS – rounding to their areas of responsibility.
  • CD – working with units about their supply needs, checking expiration dates on goods, ordering supplies and maintaining clean utility rooms.
  • Linen – consulting with units about their linen needs and deliver additional needed items.

Though they are primarily mapped to the back hallways of the hospital, the TUGs may sometimes venture into more public areas. Here are some tips on interacting with a TUG, should you encounter one:

Do’s:

  • Keep the path of the TUG clear of all obstacles.  If the TUG is moving toward you, please step aside and allow it to pass.  If you see an item in the TUGs way, please move the item to keep delivery times low.
  • Allow the TUG to ride the elevator by itself.  The TUG has to maneuver once inside the elevator.
  • Allow the TUG to exit the elevator before you enter the elevator.
  • Move the TUG out of the way in an emergency.  PUSH the red button and move the TUG to the side.

Don’ts:

  • Do not get on the elevator with the TUG.
  • Do not touch the TUG while moving.  The TUG should be moved only if there is an emergency.  If you need to move the TUG, do not move it to a stairwell or closet.
  • Do not run into the TUG with stretchers, beds or carts.
  • Do not place any item (cart, chair, stretcher, etc.) in the areas designated for the TUGs.  These include charging stations, cart drop zones and designated areas for the TUGs to stop in the event of an emergency.

Please remember that, though the TUGs are largely autonomous, for the purposes of fire and safety codes they are carts and should be treated as such during an emergency. For example, when the fire alarm is activated, make sure the TUGs are moved out of exit passageways and are not blocking corridors or doorways.