HStar Technologies is hoping that its new SerBot will literally give hospital patients a lift.
To be introduced sometime in 2014, SerBot is the first member of Cambridge, MA-based HStar?s RoNA (Robotic Nursing Assistant) family and is a modified version of RoNA, which was a Robotics Business Review Game Changer Award winner for 2013.
?The initial version is designed for patient lifting and healthcare operations, and it can be customized for a range of OEM applications focused around material handling,? said Dr. John Hu, president and CEO of HStar.
A modified version of RoNA, SerBot utilizes the same SEA (Series Elastic Actuators) technology as RoNA for bi-manual arms. With a lower payload to handle smaller loads, it offers a cost-effective means to fill the care gap by taking on and streamlining basic, time-consuming monitoring and delivery tasks.
Photos: HStar Technologies SerBot
An extended product family of robotic assistants, SerBot will bring unprecedented capabilities to hospital, nursing home and home care, as well as factory and office applications.
?We believe that SerBot?s mobility will allow it to have more applications than currently available bl-manual systems with SEA, such as Baxter, which is a fixed system,? said Dr. Hu. HStar?s robots all feature semi-autonomous mobility and can self-navigate around a hospital or factory, avoiding any obstacles or people.
While Baxter has a base price of $22,000, HStar has yet to put a price tag on SerBot.
?The amount HStar will charge for the field test unit or in clinical trials is not reflective of the commercial price. SerBot can be extremely price competitive by leveraging the company?s partnership with Handy Robotics for lower cost component manufacturing in China,? said Harrison Roberts, HStar?s strategic advisor and a member of its board of directors.
Although Cambridge is HStar?s headquarters and main development facility, China-based sister company Handy Robotics Technologies handles most of its manufacturing operations.
Founded in 2007 by roboticists from MIT, HStar has raised more than $7 million from both angel investors and grants from the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
?HStar is transitioning from primarily R&D SBIR grants to a commercialization phase,? Mr. Roberts said. ?HStar is in the process of raising additional funding to fuel that ramp up and expects to achieve a revenue positive state in 2014 or 2015.?
RoNA, for which HStar received a Game Changer Award, is an autonomous, intelligent robotic nursing assistant capable of safely lifting and maneuvering patients weighing up to 500 pounds. It utilizes stabilizing systems with intrinsically safe force-sensing compliant actuators.
?The key technology is the actuators. The future of service robots is working side-by-side and collaboratively with human workers,? said Dr. Hu.
Other robots with SEA on the market have payload capacities of up to 20 pounds, while RoNA will have a capacity up to 150 pounds for one arm, 250 pounds for two arms and, ultimately, up to 500 pounds.
For RoNA, Dr. Hu said that HStar gathers advice and feedback from the Harvard Medical School and such hospitals as Massachusetts General, Boston?s Spaulding Rehabilitation and the Boston VA Hospital to ensure the robot is meeting the health care market?s needs.
RoNA also features omnidirectional mobility and self-navigation and obstacle avoidance capabilities. Telepresence and remote operation capabilities also allow for remote patients visits and basic patient monitoring.
?Our intelligent mobile robots are designed to assist, not replace, workers. They can do the dull, dangerous or dirty jobs while extending a nurse?s career,? Mr. Roberts said. ?We have to allow humans to do what they do well, such as dexterity, and robots to do what they do well, such as repetition and routing. In combination, the end result will be much higher efficiency.?
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HStar is also in the testing stage of a combat casualty extraction and first responder robot called the cRoNA (for combat RoNA) to address the need for safe and effective medical assistance for battlefield casualties. With support from SBIR funding, cRoNA is a hardened version of RoNA capable of lifting casualties.
?We are working with Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington to develop this for a battlefield hospital,? Dr. Hu said. ?We want to assist soldiers by developing robots to aid in patient lifting and combat evacuation. It is designed to work safely alongside humans and extend a nurse?s capability.?
Dr.Hu added that cRoNA was one of the finalists for the SBIR Achievement Award in 2012.
Future upgrades of cRoNA include autonomous ultrasound image acquisition, 3D ultrasound imaging and visualization, IR scanning, autonomous injury assessment procedures and telepresence robotic control, all with a medic able to operate the system remotely.
?Combat surgeons and first responders have given us great advice on working in live fire evacuation zones. They have expressed enthusiasm and interest in this,? said Mr. Roberts.
cRoNA will also have non-military applications to effect rescues under hazardous circumstances such as chemical, biological and radioactive contamination, as well as fire.
HStar currently has 15 employees in the U.S., but Dr. Hu hopes to see that number double in 2014.
?We are well connected with the major academic research centers, such as MIT, CMU, Stanford and Georgia Tech, as well as research institutes in China. These institutions are working on cutting edge applications for a number of industries,? said Dr. Hu, who is a MIT PhD graduate and did research at MIT?s CSAIL and Media Labs alongside some of the leading robotic pioneers.
Dr. Hu said HStar?s partnership with Handy Robotics also give it access to the burgeoning Far East markets.
He added that while HStar still relies partially on federal R&D grants today, it is pushing quickly to shift to a commercial revenue phase. ?I feel the company is in a great place. I?m extremely positive about HStar?s future,? said Dr. Hu.
See related: Changzhou Handy Robotics Technologies Inc.
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