GE Global Research is working with the US Department of Veterans Affairs — the same group who had a hand in creating a contest to design user-friendly electronic medical records — to create an automated system for sorting and sterilizing medical equipment in operating rooms. Currently, tools are washed and counted by hand, a time-consuming process that's very susceptible to human error.

Using technologies that have been implemented in manufacturing lines for years, robots in GE's automated system will use radio-frequency identification tags to identify, clean, and transport tools. The project's goal is to speed up and reduce error in the sterilization process, freeing valuable health care workers for other tasks and reducing overall costs. At the end of the two-year, $2.5 million project, GE plans to test its automated system at a Veterans Affairs hospital, though a candidate has not yet been named.