Doctor Droid: iRobot and InTouch Health Unveil Medical Bot

How would you feel if, at your next hospital visit, a robot turned up at your bedside instead of a real-life flesh and blood doctor? Bedford, Mass.-based iRobot is hoping you won’t mind.

iRobot will unveil its first medical robot in Santa Barbara, California this week. The robot, which stands five feet tall, is designed to allow doctors to carry out patient care remotely and is especially useful in critical care environments—like the ICU and emergency department—where a doctor, who may not be able to tend to a patient at his bedside, can make a rapid assessment remotely and prescribe treatment on the spot.

The new robot, called the RP-VITA (Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant), is the first remote-presence solution for patient care that combines the latest in telemedicine technology from InTouch Health with autonomous navigation and mobility developed for the iRobot Ava Mobile Robotics Platform.

The robot can also be used for daily patient care and in circumstances where a specialist is needed but not located nearby. Stroke specialists, for instance, are few and far between. Any specialist can connect to RP-VITA via the internet and “see” a patient who may be in a regional hospital somewhere else.

RP-VITA can be directed from patient room to patient room to make diagnoses, interacting with patients, family, and care team alike. A set of sensors help guide the robot around its environment, and it can be controlled with and communicated through an iPad or an Android-based device.

The robot can be integrated with live patient data from electronic medical records and is equipped with the ability to connect with diagnostic devices such as otoscopes and ultrasound. It comes equipped with the latest electronic stethoscope.

With the hospital industry under increasing strain to reduce operating expenses and manage staff and resources more efficiently, the RP-VITA could make a significant impact both in terms of patient care and cost and time management.

“The RP-VITA is a game changer for acute care telemedicine, and it will become the cornerstone for many new clinical applications and uses,” said Yulun Wang, InTouch Health’s Chairman and CEO. “The RP-VITA is a platform that will immediately improve existing healthcare delivery models, and through additional collaboration and development will create new clinical innovations that we can only imagine.”

The medical robot is the first practical use of iRobot’s Ava platform, but Ava’s potential is far-reaching. iRobot hopes the Ava platform will be applicable across many industries. In retail, for instance, the robot can be used as a product expert. Rather than shoppers having to track down floor assistants, they’ll be able to chat to Ava instead. Ava could also be used for factory inspections or as a security system.

“We foresee many future opportunities in adjacent markets,” said Colin Angle, Chairman and CEO of iRobot. “Robots like the RP-VITA and iRobot Ava are easy to use and able to autonomously navigate real world environments. They lend themselves to a wide variety of applications in home, retail, industrial and other settings.”

The RP-VITA has already been tested in clinical trials at two California hospitals and is the result of a $6 million partnership between iRobot and InTouch Health.

Photo courtesy of iRobot

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