The 5-foot-4-inch, 140-pound “telemedicine” robot is designed to help patients with health emergencies get more rapid treatment from specialists — especially at night, when hospital staff levels are lower.
“Telemedicine is about getting the right expertise to the right place at the right time,” said InTouch chief executive Yulun Wang. “If a patient has a stroke and comes into the emergency room, you better get a stroke neurologist there quickly. Otherwise, through sheer delay, it can be a matter of life or death.”
Called RP-VITA, the robot allows doctors to virtually visit patients in distant locations, carrying on conversations and even taking measurements in real time. Equipped with cameras, microphones, 3-D mapping sensors, a stethoscope, and a video screen “head” that automatically swivels to listen to voices, the robot transmits and receives video, audio, and navigation instructions over a Wi-Fi broadband connection.
Doctors, patients, and hospital staff control the robot with a specialized terminal or via a software application that runs on Apple Inc.’s iPad tablet computer, and talk to one another using a Skype-like video chat displayed on the robot’s main screen.
“I can get data I never had over the phone,” said Dr. Jason Knight, a pediatric emergency care physician at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California, who has been testing a prototype of the robot. “There’s never been one time I’ve used it and said, ‘That was a waste of time.’ I always see something I wouldn’t have otherwise.”