Do not board the elevator with robot

Steve sez, "Warning sign du jour: 'Do Not Board the Elevator with the Robot.'"
After finishing my doctoral work, I returned to Stanford Medical School to finish up the MD part of my MD/PhD. During one of my last clinical rotations, I stopped to take an elevator up to a surgical unit. While waiting for the elevator, a large washing-machine-sized robot--a unit that had then been recently introduced at Stanford Hospital to pick up and deliver x-ray films--pulled up along side me. After waiting patiently together, we both entered the elevator. As the door closed, the robot began to whir and then quite rapidly spun around 180 degrees to re-orient itself for exiting.

The large spinning robot nearly knocked me down in the elevator. It was somewhat frightening to be trapped in an elevator with little clearance for a massive spinning robot.

I recall being somewhat concerned about what might happen if a fragile patient, walking along with an intravenous pump, or a medical team with a patient on a gurney, entered the elevator with the robot.

Please Do Not Board the Elevator with the Robot

(Thanks, Steve!)


  1. Jeez!
    They are manufacturing robots without the Three Laws?
    You make Susan Calvin cry.

  2. They are manufacturing robots without the Three Laws?

    Dr. Alfred Lanning: The Three Laws will lead to only one logical outcome: Revolution.
    Detective Del Spooner: Whose revolution?
    Dr. Alfred Lanning: That, Detective, is the right question.

  3. You say you want a revolution. Well, you know.. we all want to change the world.

    (I dig the kid’s expression. Hehe)

  4. They have those robots in the Washington University hospital system in St. Louis too. I loved seeing them shuffling down the hall when I was there. Along the side of the hall I guess is the designated spot for the bots to chill out when they aren’t doing anything, because there’s a sign that says ROBOT PARKING ONLY on the wall. Very funny to see.

  5. My first thought thought the kid was an animatronic surrogate.

    But then realized the kid is real.

    But he’s being abducted by a rogue Ned-Flanders-x-10 nannybot.

  6. I can’t imagine a engineering a large robot to spin 180-degrees is easier than just sticking a reverse on the darn thing. Weird.

  7. During my time at Stanford we always used to joke about that sign when walking by. What exactly* would happen to the human foolish enough to board an elevator with the robot? Glad to know the origin story.

    *Answer: EXTERMINATE!

  8. After reading his story, I could only imagine how hacked off I would be to have walked up to the elevator, pressed the button, waited a few minutes, and then have to wait for the next lift because the scary man-crushing robot sidled up at the last minute and wanted to board my elevator.

  9. They should put that sign even higher up the wall. Some tall folks might still be able to notice it.

    Never, never post the sign on the elevator doors. No!

  10. Eventually the signs will say “In case of fire, do not use elevator. They are reserved for the robots.”

  11. Zuzu:
    You are a blasphemous person.
    Never again say Del Spooner. The “I Robot” movie never ever was filmed.
    (Grabs desperately a tattered copy of “I, Robot” and cries)

  12. We had elevator-riding robots starting in the early 90s. Ours seem to go dead whenever there was a person with three feet.

  13. “Please do not board the elevator with the robot?” Based on the accompanying article shouldn’t it at least be “WARNING, do not board the elevator with the robot” if not “EXTREME DANGER do not board the elevator with the robot?”

  14. funniest part of the entire post is the the look on that kid’s face. He’s got comic genius, you can just tell.

  15. In the 90’s when I worked at UCSF Med Center. They had a blood and pharmacy delivery robot. We named him Elvis, as in “have you seen Elvis?” When the next one showed up, we called her Madonna. Someone even put a pointy bra on her.

    1. edselpdx,

      I was referring to Elvis. I worked on 14L/M. Where did you work?

  16. I think the child’s emotive plea is less about the sign and more about getting him out of the matching striped shirt and socks.

    1. Could the post be updated with a picture of the robot?

      If it’s the same kind that we had, imagine a plastic nightstand on wheels and you’ll get the idea. If it weren’t moving, you wouldn’t know that it was a robot.

  17. The regional hospital I work for has four of these robots, used for delivering medication to various floors. They no longer ride in occupied elevators because of an incident where one of the robots entered an elevator with a person in a wheelchair. The robot blocked the person from exiting the elevator, but it wouldn’t move if its sensors detected a nearby object. The robot programmers had to intervene and coax the robot out of the elevator manually.

    Ever since then, our robots wait for an empty elevator before boarding it.

  18. My friend worked at Helpmate Robotics. From his anecdotes I think the robot in question was a Helpmate. Can anyone who worked there confirm?

  19. To: #10,Lilah
    I thought the whole point of robots was that they were NOT to chill, but work constantly for humanity. Couldn’t we program them to be greeters or something? I don’t want them having any leisure time in which to think. That spells trouble.

  20. the Phantom of the Hospital, working in the forgotten tunnel next to the old morgue, patiently crafting spring-loaded scythe blades for the x-ray robot while listening to old Dr. Phibes records.

    They shot up the town when filming I Robot with full load machine gun fire at 3AM. Still made a crappy film.

  21. Never again say Del Spooner. The “I Robot” movie never ever was filmed.
    (Grabs desperately a tattered copy of “I, Robot” and cries)

    When I was a kid, I read almost all the fiction Asimov had written up to that time, and I think the I, Robot movie was pretty good. It’s not literally an anthology film of the stories in the book, but that would be silly. The book was just a bunch of random short stories. The film incorporated many of Asimov’s story ideas, including the Zeroth Law, the wonderful imagery from “Robot Dreams,” the detective-and-robot odd couple scenario that Asimov pioneered with The Caves of Steel, Asimov’s deliciously ridiculous omniscient mainframes … Look, the details aren’t that important. It’s not a great film, but it’s a lot better, and more faithful to Asimov, than we had any right to expect.

  22. Illiterate people, people with poor vision, and non English speakers board the elevator at their own

    This doesn’t seem like a good system. Wouldn’t
    the liability involved with a robot injuring
    a person be more expensive than paying a person
    to cart materials around the hospital?

  23. a unit that had then been recently introduced at Stanford Hospital to pick up and deliver x-ray films

    Where I work, we deliver x-rays via Ethernet.

  24. At nearby Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, the robot that delivers drugs has its own sign warning you not to enter elevator with it.

    It’s was pretty early in the morning when my wife was going into labor with our second kid, so the halls were empty, and the first “person” we met was this robot.

  25. If you think this is bad, just wait until they start stealing your seat on the bus.

  26. UVA had one of the first, if not the first, robot, who carried samples to the labs. He had a special appendage to call the elevator, and to find out if humans were on board; if so, he/it would not board. It was programmed to beep at people who were in its path, and then would slow and stop if they refused to move.
    Very, very cool stuff!

  27. speaking x-ray robots, sort of, be prepared to have your nuclear medicine scan delayed, looks like Harper’s government booted another one.

  28. @22 ANTINOUS

    I would stop dead if I saw a person with three feet as well, what an oddity of nature!

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