RIF Robotics

Direct investment and pilot with RIF Robotics results in unique achievement in the healthcare industry


Sterile processing departments are critical to ensuring patient safety, yet they grapple with significant challenges. Inaccuracies in manual surgical tray assembly can lead to detrimental outcomes, delays in the operating room (OR), and opaque data practices. Moreover, these departments experience high staff turnover due to demanding work environments and modest compensation. In the U.S., 51 million surgeries are performed every year. Mistakes in sterile processing affect patient recovery and cost $25 billion in operating room delays, $16 billion in reprocessing instruments (which includes cleaning, disinfection, sterilization and related procedures), and $3.3 billion in patient infections.

Looking to address these challenges, Catalyst by Wellstar, a pioneering innovation company and venture fund within Wellstar, a leading health system in the Southeast, announced a direct investment in RIF Robotics, a robotics and computer vision startup in the Advanced Technology Development Center’s (ATDC) Accelerate portfolio. RIF Robotics uses artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision, and robotics to automate the assembly and sterilization of hospital surgical instruments.


The dialogue between Catalyst and RIF Robotics to test a beta product within a Wellstar facility began in February 2023, culminating with a pilot launch at Wellstar Windy Hill Hospital by August.

During the pilot, the RIF team, working alongside sterile processing technicians, refined their product through hands-on collaboration. Training their robotic arm with hundreds of instrument images, they achieved a significant milestone: autonomously assembling a minor surgical tray.

The pilot focused on addressing the root causes of high staff turnover by aiming to improve work efficiencies and patient safety.

The RIF robotic tray assembly system reduces the tediousness of assembling trays by requiring the technician to just inspect for bioburden and functionality, instead of also checking that each instrument is present and placed in the tray in the correct location. This reduces the required experience level to assemble a tray because the technician only needs to be able to identify leftover bioburden (such as blood or bone), which is much easier to teach than all instrument names. Patient safety will improve by reducing technician frustration, so they can spend more time with instrument inspection.

In December 2023, RIF Robotics’ robotic arm proficiently assembled part of a minor surgical tray at Wellstar Windy Hill – a notable industry breakthrough.

RIF Robotics, helmed by co-founders Kevin DeMarco, PhD, CEO, Sergio García-Vergara, PhD, CTO, and Collin Farill, Head of Design, harnesses Wellstar’s operational expertise to navigate the traditionally challenging entry into secure hospital departments. Gaining access to key stakeholders is a well-known hurdle in healthcare. This pilot’s success not only advances RIF’s capabilities, but also serves as a testament to the transformative power of strategic collaborations.

“With Wellstar’s expertise in operating sterile processing departments and ATDC’s proven excellence in advising technology startups, we will be able to bring an innovative product to the healthcare industry that will improve patient outcomes and reduce hospital costs,” DeMarco said.

Results and Future Steps

The pilot’s initiative was driven by the pressing need to solve the high staff turnover rates attributed to the working conditions and low compensation and improve patient outcomes with safer and faster procedures. Based on a study from the University of Wisconsin, technician staff turnover costs US hospitals $4B each year due to talent acquisition costs, training costs, and contractor overhead.


An innovative product to the healthcare industry that will improve patient outcomes and reduce hospital costs.

Kevin DeMarco, PhD, CEO of RIF Robotics

In December 2023, RIF Robotics assembled a minor general surgery tray at Wellstar Windy Hill using their robotic tray assembly system. This is a unique achievement in the healthcare industry, and one that has the potential to improve safety for patients and help solve staff turnover. By being embedded in a Wellstar hospital, RIF was able to improve the design of their system by getting feedback from sterile processing technicians about the best human-robot interaction models for technicians when operating their robotic tray assembly system.

For example, the RIF team learned that a conveyor-based system would likely slow down the technician’s workflow, so, instead, they pivoted to a vertical multi-table design to reduce the 2D footprint of their system and increase the rate at which technicians could load the robotic tray assembly system. This change will enable a technician to assemble two or three trays in parallel, thus improving their overall productivity while minimizing tray errors and improving instrument-level traceability.

Later this year, RIF will introduce automatic bioburden inspection, which will reduce the tediousness of inspection and guarantee that each instrument is properly inspected.

Catalyst’s ongoing commitment includes expanding RIF Robotics’ robot use across the Wellstar Health System, supporting additional pilots, and ensuring the tech’s benefits are fortified by robust research and marketing strategies. By collaborating with the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) for the next three years, Catalyst is helping accelerate a dedicated health tech pipeline of viable Georgia-based startups that will impact the health of Georgia communities, like RIF Robotics.

ATDC, a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, is the state of Georgia’s technology startup incubator. It was founded in 1980, and its graduate startup companies have raised more than $3 billion in investment financing, generating more than $12 billion in revenue in the state of Georgia.

As an early-stage company nurtured by ATDC and Catalyst by Wellstar, RIF Robotics benefits from guidance in developing its product roadmap, assessing market fit, and navigating the intricacies of healthcare innovation.