Healtcare with Telepresence Robots: RP-VITA

RP-VITA is a robot avatar designed as a telepresence robot which can be controlled by physicians remotely in order to communicate with patients even from miles away distance. The skills of RP-VITA were demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. Now, the robot has the clearance of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to use in hospitals and it is the first one of its kind to take that clearance.

The smartest robot of its kind, RP-VITA is a project developed by InTouch Health, California based seller of telemedicine systems and iRobot. They became partners when iRobot bought a minority stake in the company for $6 million. Among the robots with remote presence of the iRobot such as domestic cleaning robots or bomb disabling robots, RP-VITA is the first commercial one. The objective of developing RP-VITA is to make a change in healthcare delivery by expanding the efficiency of physicians, nurses and other clinicians for the sake of the patients.

Through the application of the robot on an iPad tablet, physicians can see the electronic map of the hospital and can guide the robot. Setting the destination information on iPad is enough for the robot avatar: it maps the environment, uses sensors to move autonomously and can find its way to a patient’s room in hallways of a hospital even if it is crowded thanks to its autonomous movement technology. RP-VITA is a 5-foot-6-inch robot and has advanced cameras, sensors, speakers and a touch-screen display. Its 15 inch LCD screen head displays the face of the physician who controls the robot and takes care of the patient. The robot facilitates the consultations for the patients when the doctor is away and the next patient’s medical record can be scrutinized thanks to the application, as well. It has permission to assist in monitoring the patience even before, during and after surgical operations. Moreover, the robots can be used in intensive care unit with the task of assessment and examination.

The aim is to provide best care for the patients at the lowest possible cost but this smart robot can be regarded as a costly one: for a hospital, it would cost between $4,000 and $6,000 per month.  One of the objectives of the RP-VITA is to increase hospital revenue in acute care settings and to reduce health care costs.

There are continual software upgrades that would make additional uses in the future possible. It will be on the market within next few months and the robot will probably take its place in the medical centers soon. Although it seems limited for now, considering the future of telepresence technology and robots, a robot with the same capabilities of RP-VITA can be used in stores to help customers or as a security guard.

The chairman and CEO of iRobot states that: “FDA clearance of a robot that can move safely and independently through a fast-paced, chaotic and demanding hospital environment is a significant technological milestone for the robotics and healthcare industries. There are very few environments as difficult to maneuver as that of a busy ICU or emergency department. Having crossed this technology threshold, the potential for self-navigating robots in other markets, and for new applications, is virtually limitless.”