Our own R2-D2

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - 3:32pm

By Lesley Anne Squarey

Meet Robbie. He has a strong build, a great job in the medical field, is well spoken, funny, sensitive and intelligent.

And he’s a robot.

Robbie started working at one of Capital Health’s busiest laboratories in December. The STAT lab, located at the Halifax Infirmary site of the QEII, is known for its short turn-around time after receiving samples.

Robbie was purchased using funds saved through efficient work practices. His job is to deliver specimens from the lab receiving area to three separate divisions: hematology, chemistry and blood transfusion services.

So far, he’s helped streamline work and save money.

“He does the work of almost half of a person,” says Cindy Andrews, supervisor of blood collection and manager of sustainability manager at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

An immediate result of Robbie’s work can be seen in the number of trips made between lab divisions. Before Robbie was on the team, medical lab assistants (MLAs) made about 177 trips between divisions every 24 hours. They are now averaging just 65 trips.

Staff raised concerns when a robot joined the laboratory team. However, that quickly changed when they saw the improvements he was making.

“Staff started to realize that Robbie wasn’t replacing anyone but rather he was helping with loads of work in a stressful environment,” says Paul Acker, supervisor of the Halifax Infirmary Core Lab.

It took Robbie no time at all to get comfortable in the laboratory setting. He scoots around quickly and effectively, which frees the MLAs of the time needed to make deliveries.

“He’s all about patient care in that sense,” says Trudy Handy, supervisor of central accessioning. “By having Robbie helping the medical laboratory assistants, they’re able to work on other things. This is good for the patients because the turn around on their results is better and faster.”

When asked about Robbie’s personality and work ethic, co-workers described him as a team player, reliable and polite. Handy laughed as she described some of his quirks in the workplace.

“He’ll say ‘my bad’ if you bump into him or say ‘ouch’ if he runs into something,” says Handy.

And although he’s a robot, he does have some similarities to his human co-workers.

Like many hard workers, Robbie does get tired and requires breaks. While his co-workers prefer to spend breaks in the staff room, he charges up for his next shift by plugging into a wall.

“He’s pretty assertive,” says Trudy. “He has no problem telling you ‘This is my last run for a while.’ You can’t be upset with that because he never calls in sick!”

Acker, Handy and Andrews all agree that adopting change can be scary, but it can also be rewarding.

“Having Robbie here has been a big learning opportunity,” says Trudy. “We’ve been happy to have him.”