iRobot wants to replace your doctor with a giant Roomba

iRobot doesn't just make robotic vacuum cleaners. The company also works on 'bots for military and research applications. Now iRobot wants to edge its way into the world's hospitals with a telepresence system that would let the right physician for the job connect with a patient anywhere in the world.

If telepresence is ever actually going to take off, iRobot's RP-VITA is a good place to start. It's more than just a screen on a stick that you drive yourself, which is the shape telepresence 'bots usually take.

The RP-VITA, or "Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant," combines iRobot's mastery of navigation and system integration and combines it with InTouch Health's expertise in modernizing medical technology. Both iRobot and InTouch are no stranger to telepresence robots, having created Ava and the RP-7, respectively. RP-VITA is like a mix of the two, but on steroids.

Why's that? Because RP-VITA can navigate autonomously just like a Roomba, avoiding obstacles on its own and saving the physician from having to drive the thing. For a remote operator, driving RP-VITA is as easy as tapping an area of a floor plan, and then the 'bot figures out the rest.

RP-VITA can also integrate into the medical workflow in a meaningful way. If you're lying in a hospital bed having work done on you, for instance, RP-VITA can plug directly into ultrasound machines and other diagnostics equipment, feeding data to the physician on the other end. All this — including controlling the robot — is done through an iPad, and a tablet interface on the RP-VITA itself allows a remote doctor to display pertinent information to physicians and patients in a room.

The true benefit to a platform like the RP-VITA is that any doctor anywhere in the world could help any patient. That's probably dependent on the varying rules and regulations put on healthcare by the governments of Earth, of course, but that's not the RP-VITA's fault.

iRobot and InTouch Health, via IEEE Automaton

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