The first notable telepresence robot was developed by iRobot for NASA in the early 90s. This was transformed into the Vita bot which has been used in Midwestern hospitals for decades. Now, a range of companies are entering the space with promises of beaming the doctor to your bedside, no matter where you’re located.
Originally designed for large manufacturing spaces, the Beam robot by Suitable Technologies is making waves in healthcare. According to Wirecutter, it is “stable and reliable” and “provides clear sound and video.” The newest Beam has two dual-band Wi-Fi radios, up to 8 hours of battery life, faster speed of movement and the best wide-angle display camera on the market. Beam costs about $4,000 plus a $400 annual subscription.
The most recognizable robot in the market, the RP-Vita, comes with an automated navigation function that allows the device to autonomously navigate the hallways of the hospital. However, with a pricetag of $80,000, the list of facilities that can afford the RP-Vita is relatively short.
Based in Cambridge, MA, VGo bills its robot as an ambidextrous device suitable to a range of environments. It is lightweight, has a long-lasting battery (the VGo website boasts 12+ hours) and is far cheaper than a RP-Vita. VGo is a division within Vecna Technologies, a Cambridge based company started by a consortium of MIT engineers.
The Double is the simplest of the bunch. It’s comprised of a tall self-balancing unit that houses an iPad supplied by the user. The barebones design, simple set-up and $3000 price tag make it an easy first step for small offices or rural hospitals to try out telepresence for the first time.