September 03, 2013      

60,000 weekly deliveries

With its TUG autonomous mobile robots now firmly established in a growing number of U.S. hospitals, Aethon is preparing to spread its wings and take the supply delivery system worldwide.

Aethon's TUG

Aethon’s TUG at work in a hospital.

“We are looking to expand next year more aggressively in the international market,” said Aldo Zini, president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Aethon.

Aethon now has 425 TUGs deployed at 130 different hospitals, addressing a range of logistical challenges including patient meal delivery, linen distribution and waste removal. Aethon’s TUGs are making a total of 60,000 deliveries a week.

Of the TUGs in the field, all are in American hospitals except for four in Denmark, two in Germany and one in Australia.

The Denmark business was the result of contacts made by Aethon at last year’s RoboBusiness 2012 conference in Pittsburgh. The two TUGs in Germany are both at Bosch Venture Capital, one of Aethon’s two primary investors, along with Mitsui USA.

“Bosch and Mitsui are both opening doors for us internationally,” said Zini. “We are currently working with Mitsui on a pilot project.”

Another TUG in Australia is being demoed by Device Technologies Australia, with whom Aethon has signed a supplier agreement. There are currently three proposals out to different hospitals in that country.

Aethon partners with overseas distributors

“Our goal is to have partnerships with distributors overseas. They are better positioned to understand the culture and the marketplace,” remarked Zini, who said the agreements allow the distributors to sell, install and service the product.

Aethon's TUG

Aethon’s TUG mobile robot

Aethon leases the TUG robot to hospitals at $1,500 to $2,000 per month, depending on its application, providing, as Zini said, a great ROI.

“There is a misconception that robots take jobs from people. Our TUG robots are actually doing tasks in hospitals that people can’t do, don’t want to do, or shouldn’t do, like handle infectious waste. We are improving safety and quality of life,” said Zini.

For RoboBusiness 2013 in Silicon Valley, Zini said that Aethon already has meetings scheduled with representatives from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea.

“It is important to be there and to establish tighter relationships with foreign technology companies and distributors,” continued Zini.

At RoboBusiness 2013, administrators from El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif., will be discussing their experiences with the TUG robots.

Beyond being used as a hospital delivery system, Zini said that the TUG robot has potential applicability in many other sectors, including the hospitality, retail, and manufacturing industries. As one example, a Chinese assembly plant is looking to use the TUG robot to replenish parts rather than people pushing a cart.

“We’ve also made it easier to install,” he added. “We used to send a team of four or five people into a hospital, and it would take several weeks to map every square inch of the facility to build the TUG pathway. Now, we have one person walk through a hospital with a TUG outfitted with laser scanners, and it can be done in three or four hours.”

Additional real-time, medication-tracking business

Aethon is also seeing growing interest in its MedEx real-time medication tracking and chain-of-custody system that follows all forms of medication and blood product delivery within a hospital. It uses passive RFID and barcode technologies to provide real-time status of deliveries made by technicians, pneumatic tube or with the TUG robot.

“By law, hospitals have to track certain things like blood products and medicines. You need to have a paper trail. MedEx records everything and it is forced compliance. It really solves a lot of issues,” said Zini.

MedEx is already in use in 22 hospitals in the U.S., he said, and it is “really starting to take off.”

Zini is bullish on Aethon’s future and was proud to add that the company is growing and currently has 73 full-time employees.

“We are only beginning to hit our stride,” he said. “A lot of things are going right. Our core robotics system is rock-solid. We have more reliable machines, and our help desk is as efficient as it can be right now.”

“Last year, we became profitable for the first time,” Zini said. “Next year, we should start growing exponentially.”

TUG in action at Sinai Hospital, Baltimore, MD