Agreements for Distribution Abroad
Company officials say that ATP funding enabled HelpMate to achieve
its research and development results
much sooner than it would otherwise have been able to do. The award
also helped it develop strategic marketing arrangements abroad.
The company has signed an agreement for Otis Elevator to distribute
HelpMate hospital robots exclusively in Europe. It has also developed
marketing arrangements with other parties in Europe and Japan.
plans to expand the use of
the ATP-funded technology by developing robots that can assist
elderly persons at home.
HelpMate raised $6 million through an initial public stock offering
in 1996 and used the money to build production and sales capabilities.
A second offering of $5 million did not go through, and the company
had to downsize temporarily. New funding, however, has been committed,
which should enable rebuilding of staff and marketing, as well as
further work on a home-service version of the robot. In addition,
the population of HelpMate robots in the field continues to serve
well and will back up the companys renewed sales effort.
Hospitals using HelpMate robots are benefiting. HelpMate Robots
are delivering medicines, supplies, prepared food, x-ray images,
and other material in about 100 hospitals in the United States and
Canada. They have lowered the cost and improved the quality of these
delivery services. One hospital pharmacy director, for example,
reported net annual savings of around $10,000 per robot per year.
In addition, the robots made the deliveries faster than humans did.
There are about 150 HelpMate robots in these hospitals, according
to company officials. If the savings for each robot to the hospital
is $5,000 to $10,000 per year, then these hospitals are already
realizing an annual savings of $750,000 to $1.5 million. The cost
savings at the 100 hospitals alone over 10 years would be in the
millions. These are savings above the rental cost of the robots.
As more hospitals, factories and other facilities adopt these robots,
cost savings will multiply.
In addition to these cost savings, benefits accrue to hospitals,
physicians and patients through improved delivery service. Not only
is robot delivery faster than human delivery, but it is also frequently
more reliable, according to hospital officials, because of fewer
to Serve the Elderly and Infirm
The analysis above is only for robots already employed in
hospitals. For in-home nursing services, the use of robots could
generate much larger savings. HelpMate plans to expand the use of
the ATP-funded technology by developing robots that can assist infirm
and elderly persons at home. But for this application, the company
first solve additional technical problems. These robots must have
highly functional arms, improved vision, more sophisticated programming,
and some speech recognition capabilities. The company has estimated
that, if successful, this development could substantially reduce
health care costs by eliminating some of the need to hospitalize
or hire home help for the frail elderly.
Two industrial applications currently being explored are in computer
chip fabrication and clinical laboratory work. In clinical labs,
vials containing substances, such as the human immunodeficiency
virus, that are highly dangerous to human workers could be moved
Two industrial applications currently being explored are
in computer chip fabrication and clinical laboratory work.
workstation to another by robot. In a chip fabrication plant, robots
could move supplies to the fabrication line in response to specific
orders from operators. For these applications to be realized, capital
will have to be raised to support the additional engineering required
to tailor robots to the specific needs of each environment. Lab
robots, for example, will need to be built to work without bumping
into delicate research instruments and materials, and chip-plant
robots must be engineered to operate so cleanly they do not contaminate
the superclean rooms where chips are fabricated.
In addition to these applications, company officials say, the ATP-funded
technology is expected to be used
for mobile robots in all kinds of factories and has potential applications
in warehouses, maintenance facilities, mail distribution centers,
and shopping malls (for delivery, maintenance, and cleaning services).
As in hospitals, the use of robots in these environments is expected
to lower costs substantially and improve service.