The self-driving food cart drives itself and delivers freshly made hot meals to patients safely and on time.
The beginning of Yujin Robot's food distribution cart solution
In 2019, Myungse CMK contacted Yujin Robot with the idea of making the food distribution cart fully autonomous. Since signing the MOU in early 2020, Yujin Robot and Myeongju have been working together to carry out a proof of concept (PoC) and successfully exhibited at KIMES (Korea International Medical Equipment and Hospital Equipment Exhibition) in 2021.
The nature of the food distribution work that causes frequent staff changes
Quality and efficient dispensing is very important in hospitals. The company was the first company in Korea to introduce an innovative electric dispensing system that heats and cools in real time. It was a huge improvement compared to the laborious haul of manual carts around the hospital, but specification carts always required human assistance. Drivers used to control the electric cart with levers while checking blind spots on the screen. This work, while important, was very difficult and uncomfortable. This was especially true for typical non-synchronous dispensing carts weighing up to 500 kg. As a result, cart drivers often quit, and personnel changes were frequent. Due to this shortage of manpower and the difficulties of workers, there was an urgent need to automate the hospital distribution system. This is because robots can continue to operate without a day off.
Yujin Robot's solution
Given that the standard solution to automating the dispensing process would be to integrate two systems—the traditional dispensing cart and an autonomous mobile platform—and that doing so would require double the cost and space, the idea of robotizing the dispensing cart itself was revolutionary. Combining these two systems into one machine operating as a single system would make the workflow much smoother and easier to integrate in the hospital.
Yujin Robot's end-to-end robotization solution solves that problem precisely. After a detailed consulting session, Yujin Robot's experienced engineers decided to completely transform the existing food distribution cart into an unmanned autonomous machine that travels through the hospital corridors. Bringing self-driving capabilities to an existing machine is a completely different task than putting a structure on a mobile platform. This is a uniquely customized service that requires more than 6 months of PoC development. During development, the payloads, drives, motors, drivers, hardware, software, sensor attachments, safety systems, UI/UX, and more of manual machines are all modified. The initial time required for a PoC may seem too long, but it's a long-term investment.
The biggest technical challenge in putting autonomous dispensing carts into hospitals is elevator integration. In Yujin Robot's FMS (Fleet Management System), elevator integration means that when a robot is commanded to go to a certain floor, the elevator server is notified when the robot will arrive in front of the elevator, sends the elevator to the robot, and transports the robot to the correct destination floor. Due to workflow, congestion, safety, etc., humans and robots cannot ride in the elevator together, so there must be a separate elevator line for robots, and employees usually use elevators with designated robot hours.
Growing demand for autonomous solutions
Despite the problems mentioned above, interest from major hospitals in autonomous food carts is very high. In hospital environments where labor efficiency and patient satisfaction are top concerns, robotizing food carts will significantly improve the overall customer experience. Yujin Robot's robotization service covers not only Myeongseong's electric food distribution carts but also all manual machines. Robotizing existing manual machines in hospitals and many other businesses can be seen as a profitable investment to quickly take the lead in a rapidly evolving technology market.