FDA gives OK to first telemedicine robot

Can "move safely and independently" through busy hospital environments

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given 510(k) clearance to RP-VITA, developed jointly by iRobot Corp and InTouch Health. It's touted as the first autonomous navigation remote presence robot to get the nod from the FDA.

RP-VITA combines autonomous navigation and mobility technologies developed by iRobot with telemedicine and electronic health record (EHR) integration developed by Goleta, Calif.-based InTouch Health. Officials say it allows remote doctor-to-patient consults, ensuring physicians have access to the necessary clinical information where and when they need it.

The robot is able to map its own environment and uses an array of sensors to autonomously move about a busy space without interfering with people or other objects, officials say. Its iPad interface allows a doctor to visit a patient, and communicate with hospital staff and patients with a single click, regardless of their location.

"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," said Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of iRobot, in a statement.

"There are very few environments as difficult to maneuver as that of a busy ICU or emergency department," he added. "Having crossed this technology threshold, the potential for self-navigating robots in other markets, and for new applications, is virtually limitless."

This FDA clearance means RP-VITA can be used for active patient monitoring in pre-operative, peri-operative and post-surgical settings such as cardiovascular, neurological, prenatal, psychological and critical care assessments and examinations.

"Remote presence solutions have proven their worth in the medical arena for quite some time," said Yulun Wang, chairman and CEO of InTouch Health. "RP-VITA has undergone stringent testing, and we are confident that the robot's ease of use and unique set of capabilities will enable new clinical applications and uses."

[See also: iRobot grows alliance with inTouchHealth]