UK-based Zimbabwean inventor develops robot helper ‘Milton’ for the NHS and it’s a penguin

Edwin Chabuka Avatar

William Pasi Sachiti a Zimbabwean inventor based in the UK was challenged by Milton Keynes University Hospital, an NHS trust, to develop a helper robot for the NHS. William and his team created this robot in the form of a penguin and it has been operating live since November 2022.

Milton is what they call the robot penguins and they work alongside healthcare workers to augment their jobs. The more routine ones like transporting medicine, samples, and medical supplies.

Following our work delivering medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic, in late 2021, a pioneering NHS Trust, Milton Keynes University Hospital, approached us with a challenge: how could our technology be used to work alongside the existing workforce to support the increased demand on logistical activities (moving medicines, specimens, and clinical supplies etc)  around the hospital to ultimately improve the care and experience patients receive?

William Sachiti – Linkedin

The tech in these robots is an evolution of the self-driving delivery vehicles they developed back in 2019. Those delivery vehicles were particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic when human contact was not an option. It’s a combination of RADAR and LiDAR (sound and light) to navigate objects in their surroundings.

Navigating familiarity

With self-driving cars, it’s easier to integrate them into society. They are just machines minus a human constantly operating them. However, when we talk about robots fulfilling human tasks it starts becoming a different story. We may not yet be at a level where we can trust robots enough to that extent. Which was the hardest part of the challenge William was tasked with.

At first, we really had reservations about how best this could be done without it having a negative impact on the human experience, but three things quickly became clear:

– Just how far people have to travel everyday in hospitals to deliver anything that’s needed
– How incredibly dedicated hospital workers are to delivering the best possible care for patients and to doing so in a way that only humans can: with empathy, kindness and often with a great sense of humour
– The staff wanted support and needed it to relieve some of the pressure

After a series of meetings and workshops with the hospital staff, it seemed we might actually be uniquely qualified to try and take on such a challenge – to safely introduce hospital robots in a non-intrusive way. 

William Sachiti – Linkedin

William’s company, the Institute of Robotics, recently bought a decommissioned military base, the RAF Neatishead the former Royal Air Force air defence radar station. It’s been converted into a factory and test site for the institute’s projects. The grounds come with a track that they will be using to test self-driving cars like the Kar-Go they developed. It is also where Milton the helper robot has been developed and tested before it went off for a live test at Milton Keynes University hospital.

The secret is finally out!! As far back as February last year (2021), I began the process of acquiring a unique site. In April this year, I finally completed on the acquisition of RAF Neatishead the former Royal Air Force air defence radar station. Once the heart of Britain’s Cold War defences and part of a network of air defence stations, the site comprises of over 19 buildings across 250,000 sq ft of usable space sitting on over 26 acres of land.

Crucially, the site also includes a network of private roads which my company, Academy of Robotics, will be using as private test tracks for our autonomous vehicles. The former hangars which come equipped with welding shops, workshops and factory spaces will allow us to begin production on site as soon as next week. The site, also just so happens to have a Cold War underground nuclear bunker which is nearly 5 acres in size! 

William Sachiti – Linkedin

The impact these robotic penguins will have on hospital staff is on the mileage they cover running routine errands. Professor Joe Harrison, Chief Executive of Milton Keynes University Hospital says that on average nursing staff covers 30 000 steps per day or about 23km.

Milton should be able to not only reduce the mileage that hospital staff take up but also adds to an efficient logistics system whose heavy lifting is transferred from the hospital staff to the robots. Leaving the hospital staff more energized and with more time to attend to patients.

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  1. Love Death + Robots

    What a great way to transfer learnings from one endeavour to another. I know a couple of health workers in Milton Keynes who’ll appreciate the relief this can bring (more £ would be nice too!). They’ll need to build a Spot-like variant for Zim though. The Boki version will need legs to jump over patients and random junk in the corridors!

  2. Dean Tarisai

    I’m proud to see Zimbabweans make an impact around the world. God bless 263 🇿🇼

  3. Anonymous

    And how many components on that bot did they actually make themselves coz most of these guys are just putting together existing components from different companies.

    1. Mabhena

      Lol. I know right. There are also some builders out there who don’t make their own cement, cast their own bricks or fabricate their own window frames. Truly shameful

  4. Sinyo

    This is fantastic. I am humbled by the ingenuity dispayed by William and his team.

    I would love to connect with William on yet another challenge that requires AI but this time in Zimbabwe.