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FDA Approves iRobot Device For Use in Hospitals

January 24, 2013 | Telepresence Options

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Machine meant to aid doctors, but cost is high

By Michael B. Farrell

Bedford's iRobot Corp., best known for its Roomba vacuum cleaners, has won Food and Drug Administration clearance for a new line of robots designed to let doctors interact with hospital patients remotely.

The sleek, 5-foot-6-inch robot called the RP-VITA is designed to navigate around hospitals on its own and has a 15-inch LCD screen as a face.

It represents the early stages of a big push by iRobot into the health care market as the defense side of its business continues to contract.

The first RP-VITA robots, which would cost hospitals between $4,000 and $6,000 a month to operate, could begin appearing in medical centers throughout the country in the next few months.

"We think it's the beginning of an amazing new phase for the use of robots in telemedicine," said Colin Angle, chief executive officer of iRobot, which developed the robots in partnership with InTouch Health Inc., a Santa Barbara, Calif., company that is one of the pioneers in telemedicine systems.

Hospitals often use telemedicine to allow specialists to diagnose patients from long distances.

IRobot began a partnership with InTouch Health about a year ago when it invested $6 million to buy a minority stake in the company.

"Today, the market is just getting started," said Philip Solis, an analyst with ABI Research in New York. "Telepresence robots are seeing some use, but it's still on a limited basis."

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