Kids & Family

Costumed Hospital Robots Bring Smiles to Everyone's Faces

The Halloween surprise brings cheer to a place that's often stressful.

You might do a double take if you walk the halls of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Presbyterian and Montifiore Hospitals in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.

That's because, mixed in with the staff, patients and visitors roaming the corridors are a team of robots. They're called "TUGs" and they're programmed to help doctors and nurses by delivering drugs, linens and meals to patient rooms, freeing up staff for direct service to patients.

People are so used to the TUGs, they tend treat them like people -- politely getting out of their way, even talking to them. So last year, some employees thought why not have a little fun on Halloween and dress the TUGs in costume -- kind of a "TUG-or-Treat?"

Check out what they did this year and see the ear-to-ear smiles when they let a robot Frankenstein loose in the hospital halls, along with a mummy and a black cat:

The TUGs are an integral part of the two hospitals, which are separated by two city blocks and connected by a long bridge. The bridge is also one of the prime routes where visitors and patients get to see and interact with the robots, and that's where the costumed TUGs stopped to pose for pictures and give out candy from drawers that usually hold prescriptions.

The TUG robot is manufactured in Pittsburgh by a company called Aethon .They're kind of like a self-driving car for indoors, using programming and sophisticated lasers to negotiate obstacles.

"They know the profile of the hospital, its hallways, its corridors where the doorways are located," explained Al L'Atrelli, Administrative Director of Pharmacy at UPMC Presbyterian.

"They have sensors so they can pick up on people. They have cameras so that they're able to navigate around any obstacles that aren't permanently there."

(Above: staff members work to decorate the "black cat" Tug. Staff donated the materials and time to do the costuming)

The TUGs may be robots, but don't tell that to the folks at Presby and Montifiore who consider them part of the family. Encountering them is "an escape for our patients and visitors," said Will Kasper, a Pharmacy Administrative Fellow at UPMC.

"If they can see the TUG and forget about why they're here, it puts a smile on everyone's face."

Kudos to the folks at Aethon for using their talents to make life better for others, and to the staff at UPMC for coming up with an idea that's making a difference in the lives of others who could use a little cheer!

(Images & video: UPMC)

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