The Intelligence Behind the Robotic-Enabled System

Last week, GE announced that we are working with the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) to develop a robotic-enabled intelligent system, which could save patients lives, and hospitals money. The project is a 24 month $2.5MM effort to demonstrate automating the Sterile Processing System (SPS) for the Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals. As the principal investigator for the project, I was very excited to see our work shared with the world, although I must admit, I was not really prepared for the flurry of activity the press release would generate.

Since its release, our project has been all over the digital space, from Facebook and Twitter to one of my favorite reads, the RFID Journal. This is the first time I have experienced anything like this in my career at GE and while it is very cool, I am just the Principal Investigator on the project. My technical expertise is in auto-ID technologies but there are many other technologies we are looking to bring together to make these robots come to life, including robotics, auto-ID technologies, computer vision and business integration.

My team members here at Global Research are the brains behind this project and the ones who will see it become a success. While not everyone is a full time participant on this project, everyone is available as a resource for key people in each of the disciplines. I wanted to take the chance to highlight the teams involved and in future blogs, we will share more details about all of the technologies involved to ensure this system is capable of sorting, cleaning, sterilizing and transporting surgical tools.


The Distributed Intelligent Systems (DIS) Lab, managed by John Lizzi, is leading the project, which focuses on developing intelligent Cyber-Physical Systems.

The system will likely require the co-location of robots and humans.  This means strict measures are needed to ensure the safety of personnel, patients and visitors in the research lab and the VA hospitals. Tim Dooley is championing our safety plan.

The Robotics effort will focus on a mix of mobile and stationary robots and will specifically address cooperation and collaboration among the robots and humans as well as specific engineering requirements for the robots end effectors. The team members include experts in both of these areas.  Team members are:  Balajee Kannan, Ying Mao, Weston Griffin, Brad Miller, Ghulam Baloch and Brian Farrell

Computer Vision is important in almost every step of the process and will require algorithm development to detect and identify the implements, validation for tracking tray completion, cart building and cart delivery.  The team members are: Yi Xu, Li Guan and Xingwei Yang

Auto-ID technologies are also important in almost every step. They will be used in tasks similar to computer vision and it is expected that the two technologies will co-exist and at times be used in conjunction with each other and as a back-up to each other.  The team members are: Brandon Good, Li Zhang, and Dave Horney

Modifying sterilization requirements at a VA facility takes an Act of Congress (seriously!).  The sterilization team will not be modifying the current sterilization processes but Frank Mondello is investigating techniques for detecting biologicals on instruments and Darryl Michael is working on making sure nothing we do introduces error in the sterilization process.

Modeling and Simulation will be used to baseline the current process and measure improvement to the process. The team will also integrate the disparate business processes in a standalone database so the information flows seamlessly between all of the different technologies.  The team members are: Dave Toledano, Kunter Akbay, Chris Johnson, Onur Dulgeroglu, Shanshan Wang

Along with introducing our team in this post, I also wanted to share a personal connection I have to this project. The objective of this project is to increase the safety of the patients, our veterans. Veterans are a very special class of citizens in the United States and in the world. Without them, we would not have the life we have here in the United States. My grandfather was in WW II, my father in Korea, cousins, friends and co-workers in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In every single instance, there is one commonality: being a Veteran defines who they are. My father did not see combat, but he processed the paperwork for every single fallen U.S. soldier in his 4 years of service.  He does not talk about it except once in my lifetime and he cried, 50 years later. I’ll never forget seeing him cry. Being a soldier becomes part of the fabric of their very existence.

I am very proud to be a part of this project and to have the opportunity to work alongside such a talented team. I look forward to sharing updates on this project with you over the year ahead.



  1. Eladio

    Great job

  2. Joseph Salmon

    Please inform me fully about the most ambitious research projects. I am open to one relocation move.