Soon, that nearby worker might be a robot

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One of Linda Muniz’s newest colleagues is a robot that makes deliveries. On a recent morning, Muniz greeted the robot as it rolled up to the nursing station at El Camino Hospital in the Silicon Valley community of Mountain View, Calif., and announced its presence in a polite female voice.

“I call her ‘Tugette,’ ” says Muniz, who works in hospital admissions. The voice is about the only feminine part of this robot, which was developed by Aethon as part of a product line called Tug, which automatically transports food, medicine, and lab samples around hospitals. The robot looks like a cabinet attached to a giant vacuum cleaner. Muniz can unload Tugette’s cabinet, press a green button, and send the machine rolling to its next delivery.

While robots have been around for decades, they’ve mostly been used in manufacturing jobs considered too dangerous for humans. “Big robots were often behind fences, ” says Jeff Burnstein, president of the Robotic Industries Assn., a trade group in Ann Arbor, Mich., that promotes wider use of robots in industry. “Now, we’re seeing movement in making robots more intrinsically safe so they can work side-by-side with humans.”

Full story: Soon, That Nearby Worker Might Be a Robot