These Could Be the Medical Droids NIH is Looking For

R2-D2 and C-3PO at the premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens".

R2-D2 and C-3PO at the premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens". KGC-42/STAR MAX/IPx/AP File Photo

The National Institutes of Health want to know if companies can supply autonomous delivery bots to safely and securely deliver medications.

Soon, the friendly hospital nurse that brings your medication might be less than 4 feet tall and able to spin rapidly in a small space.

At least, that’s the hope of the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, which is deciding whether the time is right to start using autonomous robots to deliver medication in its hospitals.

The health research agency issued a request for information seeking companies able to build delivery bots that meet the specific needs of the inpatient environment.

NIH is looking for at least two vendors capable of building such robots, so the agency can run a full competition for the contract. Ideally, there would also be at least two small or disadvantaged businesses in the mix, as well.

In order to qualify for the competition, vendors must be able to deliver the hardware, software and maintenance services for up to two delivery robots. If early tests in the Pharmacy Department go well, the agency might increase the order to 10 more robots.

Most of the requested design specs are what one would expect from a modern autonomous robot: no tracks or cables required for movement, obstruction detection and avoidance measures, the ability to transition between hard flooring and carpet and at least eight hours of battery life.

But the request also includes some features specific to the hospital environment, such as being able to rotate in a small space, biometric locks on medication draws, the ability to connect to NIH’s secure Wi-Fi network set aside for medical equipment and a customizable reporting system.

The bot and software must also have been tested previously in real-world clinical environments.

NIH officials received feedback on the request for information on July 12. Depending on the quality of submissions, contracting officers will decide the best acquisition method moving forward.

The agency plans to award a contract this summer, with a tentative start date set for Aug. 1. The initial contract would run for one year, with four one-year add-on options.