One day robots may have their own brains—but until then, why not implant a human brain into a robot chassis? Sound messy? Nah. Just outfit a robot with a microphone, camera, screen, Internet connection, a doctor on the other end, and Bob’s your uncle. You’ve got a robot/doctor hybrid that can tirelessly make the rounds at hospitals across the country in a single day.
InTouch Health and iRobot’s RP-Vita telepresence is just such a robot/doctor hybrid. The companies showed off the bot at CES 2013 and earned PC Magazine’s Best Robot honors. Now, after successful trials in 2012, they plan to take RP-Vita mainstream. According to the companies, RP-Vita recently received FDA approval for use in hospitals—the first autonomous healthcare robot to gain such approval.
FDA approval can be a sticking point for telepresence robots. Strict regulatory requirements aim to insure security and prevent misuse. But in RP-Vita’s case, there’s a precedent. Its predecessor, RP-7i, is already used in hospitals around the country. Because the added functionality did not significantly change the robot’s already approved core functionality, one imagines the approval process was shorter and easier than it would have been the first time around.
What makes this robot so special? It combines the core specialties of InTouch Health and iRobot. iRobot is known for its circular ground-dwelling robot—the Roomba vacuum cleaner. These robots use infrared sensors to detect obstacles and avoid them. Meanhwile, InTouch Health deals in telepresence robots, like RP-7i and RP-Vita. InTouch Health telepresence solutions are already in hospitals nationwide and are approaching 300,000 “remote sessions” to date.
Bringing the companies’ core technologies together gives medical telepresence robots more range, flexibility, and automation. Doctors need only note on an iPad where the robot should go, and RP-Vita takes it from there. It navigates the hall, avoiding humans and other obstacles, and enters the requested room to begin the session—where the doctor can talk to the patient and even plug in various monitoring devices to check their vitals in session. See here for more on RP-Vita:
Image Credit: InTouch Health