A robot called Tug, for instance. No, Tug can't talk philosophy with you, and Tug can't do your laundry. But Tug is a pioneer. Because in hospitals around the world, this robot is helping nurses and doctors care for patients by autonomously delivering food and drugs, shouldering the burden of time-consuming mundanity. And now, it's rolling more and more into hotels, so get ready to see more of Tug.
If we’re being honest, Tug isn’t much to look at, unless you’re particularly fond of boxes on wheels. But really, it’s a self-driving car for the indoors. It navigates like a robocar would, using lasers to detect its surroundings and avoid obstacles. Step in front of it and it halts. Push an IV stand in its way and it routes around it.
Like a self-driving car, Tug sees its world by spraying it with lasers. That tech is called lidar, the same algorithmically intense stuff at the heart of the dispute between the self-driving car programs of Uber and Google's Waymo.
By bouncing lasers off its surroundings, Tug builds a highly detailed 3-D map. Supplementing that is a more traditional map of the hospital in Tug’s head. So it starts at a known point and uses geometry to position itself as it makes its way through the corridors. It can even call elevators to get to other floors.
Sure, sometimes it gets stuck and needs human help if, say, a large cart is blocking its path. But for the early days of this kind of technology, Tug is surprisingly sophisticated, navigating a human world with relative ease. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it puts humans at ease. Hospital administrators need all the help they can get, but can they trust a robot to work alongside doctors and nurses?