Campus & Community

Robot rolls around Children’s Hospital

4 min read

‘Gizmo’ popular with nurses and patients

Gizmo, a 600-pound robot with a female voice, makes her rounds at Children’s Hospital Boston. She delights young patients and awes visitors. (Staff photo Justin Ide/Harvard News Office)

“Gizmo” has been working at Children’s Hospital Boston for almost three years without a vacation or even a coffee break. She underwent a major brain transplant a few weeks ago, but she never calls in sick and is never late. Busy nurses, harried administrators, excited young patients all love the 4 1/2-foot-tall, 600-pound bilingual robot with a female voice.

– Video: Real/Quicktime

Gizmo makes several runs a day delivering medical records to as many as 20 stations, freeing hospital staff to do other things. “We’re happy with her work,” says Mary Radley, director of the medical records department. “She’s very dependable, and kids love her.”

The machine wears a permanent smile in the form of a large cartoon face. When she came back from her rounds after the Boston Red Sox won the World Series last year, Gizmo gained a few “Go Sox” stickers, which she still proudly wears.

Hiring Gizmo was Radley’s idea. While employed at Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, Mass., she worked with a robot who delivered medications. When she moved to Children’s, Radley suggested using a robot to handle the time-consuming task of delivering and picking up medical records. Hospital officials liked the idea. In a hospital-wide contest, the patients and employees vied to choose a name for her. “Gizmo” won.

“We gave her a female voice because it’s more soothing than a male voice and less intimidating for the kids,” notes Elizabeth Callaghan, medical records operations manager. Gizmo speaks first in English then in Spanish, saying things like, “Please check my backpack (for records),” or “My way is blocked, please move the obstacle.” It’s a big surprise for people when they first encounter Gizmo and are politely asked to step aside.

Getting around

Now that Gizmo is broken in, she works for less than $6 an hour, a real bargain for a dependable gofer. Radley estimates that the robot saves about four hours of human time every day. In addition, records are more secure in Gizmo’s locked backpack than in the open cart once used for human delivery and pick-up. To access records, an authorized staff member places a finger on the ‘bot’s back. Gizmo opens her backpack only when the fingerprint matches one of those in her electronic memory.

Strangers often ask, “Where are her arms?” “How does she know where’s she’s going?” “How does she call the elevator?” Gizmo doesn’t need arms. Her brain carries a map of the hospital in its memory. A wireless system allows her to navigate hallways, find hospital stations, call or exit elevators. If people are already in an elevator, Gizmo waits for the next car. But she doesn’t mind people getting on with her.

Infrared sensors allow her to maneuver around obstacles, including people, and to open hallway and elevator doors. She announces her arrival at a station with chimes, a sound that prompts many young patients to stick their heads out of their rooms. Some patients look forward to her daily visits, others are more blasé. She’s always a treat for new patients and first-time visitors.

Gizmo was made by Pyxis Inc., a division of Cardinal Health Company of Danbury, Conn., which also maintains her “health” and does brain transplants when needed.

Children’s Hospital is moving toward a system of computerized record keeping, so Gizmo’s present job is in doubt. “She’s very trainable,” Radley points out. “She could have a future doing other things like making night deliveries of medications from the pharmacy to patient units. And she may be recruited to bring mail and food trays. She’s got many good years left, and no one wants to fire her.”