TRACS is Page 5's vision for a telerobotic architectural system, the key feature of which is an overhead rail and trolley system to provide fast, safe and unobtrusive mobility of machines with hands and arms in human occupied spaces. During high-speed transit or at times that hallways are congested, telerobots will be retracted upward, close to the ceiling and then extend down to a level appropriate for performing the task at hand.
Telerobots that ride TRACS could be coupled to a train of "freight cars" for activities that involve moving large amounts of material, such as delivering meal trays in health care settings or moving hospital supplies from storage to individual rooms. Independently motorized freight cars could also run the rail to bring supplies or fresh batteries to telerobots tied down performing work.
TRACS features a post-tensioned concrete beam to provide extremely high structural integrity in support of the transit rails. This approach minimizes movement and vibration within the beam and between the beam and trolley. These unwanted motions must be kept small as they will be magnified at the machine’s hands by the distance the telerobot is telescoped down from the fully retracted transit position.
Benefits of TRACS
The benefits of TRACS go well beyond those mentioned above:
- Telerobots riding rails are not subject to tipping over, a very real concern for telerobots using ground-based forms of locomotion. A wheeled, tracked or legged telerobot performing a task near the combined limit of reach and payload could pose a safety concern were an object or person to bump into it. Notwithstanding the use of extremely costly exotic materials, telerobots using ground-based systems for locomotion will generally be three to four times heavier and substantially larger than their rail-riding counterparts.
- A TRACS general purpose telerobot built from low-cost materials will be able to manipulate objects up to 5 Kg. (11 lbs.) and to vertically lift and move objects weighing three times as much. Yet the telerobot may weigh as little as 30 Kg. (66 lbs.).
- The total weight of a TRACS telerobot designed to reliably handle loads up to 135 Kg (298 lbs.) may weigh as little as 70 Kg. (154 lbs.).
- Steel wheels on rails, one of the most efficient forms of transportation, minimizes ongoing energy expenses associated with telerobot and freight car locomotion.
- An uninterruptible duty cycle becomes practical through physical plug-in of the telerobot at fixed work locations (bathing stations, for example) and by change-out of batteries delivered by motorized freight cars.
- The cross-sectional shape of the beam forms a conduit through which utilities such as electrical and communication cables may be routed; in a comprehensive installation the network of beams will contiguously encompass virtually the entire floorplan of a building.
- The use of vertical space is dramatically improved; cabinets mounted too high for people to access without stools or ladders will not pose an issue for TRACS telerobots. Better use of vertical space will lead to improved utilization of floor space, especially when remodeling is a viable option.
- The use of TRACS for emergency response will be unprecedented in efficiency due to the intrinsic speed and safety of elevated rail-based locomotion. On-call procedures will likely have to be updated to ensure that physicians, nurses and/or paramedics are telepresent (if they are not physically present) when the telerobot arrives at the scene. In hospital and similar health care settings motorized freight cars carrying emergency response gear may be kept on patrol to quickly dispatch equipment to medical professionals or telerobotic first responders.
- Freight cars of varying size could reduce the number of ground-based carts needed for moving supplies throughout medical facilities. The quality of cleaning and sanitization of freight cars will far surpass that which can be attained for their ground-based counterparts, a consequence of automating the process and not having to deal with cleaning wheels that have been in contact with the floor. Overall, a cleaner and less cluttered environment will be afforded through installation of TRACS.
- TRACS will facilitate new sources of revenue. For example, a motorized freight car could quickly deliver a sizable hi-def flat screen to a room in a health care facility or retirement community in response to an unscheduled televisitation or simply to watch the Superbowl. For a nominal fee, board games or other entertainment devices could be delivered from storage. Multi-player games like MonopolyTM could actually be played through the use of a telerobot.
- Telerobots will access space through passive swinging doors or compact motorized sliding doors installed above existing room doors. By relocating doorway lintels to a position above the rail support beam telerobots will be able to enter and exit rooms when extended down or when retracted up—the latter situation being possible with the main door closed for privacy.
TRACS telerobots will be able to accomplish an enormous amount of work. Activities not even considered today become possible in a TRACS environment. For example, telerobots could insert insulated panels equipped with inflatable seals into exterior window frames at night to save energy. Heating and cooling vents could also be manipulated by telerobot in response to whether a room is occupied or to improve the temperature control of indoor spaces. Telerobots could perform automated battery change out to devices ranging from lamps, shavers and individual meal plate warmers to EKG machines and telediagnostic equipment that are designed or modified to be TRACS-compliant.
Battery change out, combined with electric outlets being installed in the ceiling and fed by power cables routed through TRACS beams will make it possible to eliminate electrical wiring in walls. This seemingly small change foreshadows big potential savings in renovation costs. Following demolition, facilities may be built out in a sequence that enables telerobots to contribute to the construction process itself. With appropriate sensing and control equipment, telerobots could be used to frame walls using steel studs and tracks, install insulation and wall panels, apply trimwork and, finally, prime and paint. Automated application of joint compound and tape to drywall and subsequent sanding may be a bit tricky, but with an excellent payback in the offing, some crafty entrepreneur will successfully rise to the challenge.
Challenges to TRACS
Adoption of TRACS-type technology in many facilities may be complicated by:
- Institutional inertia; many businesses are simply resistant to change until absolutely necessary.
- An inability for small or underutilized facilities to absorb the capital cost of TRACS retrofit and/or remodeling.
- Difficulties in relocating patients to facilitate construction or remodeling activities, especially in situations where there's a waiting list for beds.
Health care providers reluctant to adopt TRACS will need to keep an ear to the ground for the coming groundswell in telerobots; it likely will not be long before a deeply-funded McMedical franchise emerges. Comprising complete renovations or brand new facilities using X-TRACS, they will be optimized in design to provide excellent care at affordable costs.