Robots are hard at work in hospitals doing what they can to help us get through the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to sterilizing rooms and delivering medication and supplies, robots are helping hospital staff to work much safer and more efficiently through telepresence.
iRobot spinoff Ava Robotics has telepresence robots deployed in hospitals, where they’re enabling doctors quarantined at home to stay present in emergency rooms and allowing nurses to see patients without having to worry about personal protective equipment. The robots are lowering the risk of infection while making it possible for hospital staff to stay productive even if they’re at home or under quarantine themselves, adding a little extra slack to an overstressed system.
Ava Robotics was founded in 2016 by folks from iRobot, and the concept for the robot itself goes back at least a decade. iRobot announced a healthcare robotics division in 2009, introduced a demonstrator platform called Ava at CES in 2011, and then used the technology in Ava (fully autonomous navigation combined with robust, high quality telepresence) to develop both a telemedicine system (in partnership with InTouch Health) called RP-VITA, and a more traditional telepresence robot (in partnership with Cisco) called the Ava 500. With iRobot itself focusing primarily on consumer robots over the past few years rather than commercial or enterprise robots, Ava Robotics took all of that Ava tech to build a separate business with it.
While Ava is a capable general telepresence robot (and there are plenty of them deployed in an enterprise capacity), there are several features that make Ava uniquely qualified for work in hospitals, reflecting its history as a healthcare platform. Firstly, the robot is fully autonomous, using depth cameras and lidar to navigate by itself while avoiding static and dynamic obstacles. Ava relies on a HIPAA-certified communications system from Cisco to make sure that conversations between doctors and patients are private. And the entire robot is very easy to clean and disinfect, and can be sterilized just like any other surface in a hospital.
Since hospital staff are, understandably, far too busy to tell us how they feel about their robot colleagues right now, we spoke with Youssef Saleh, founder and CEO at Ava Robotics, to learn more about how hospitals are using Ava’s robots. While we’ve been requested to keep the deployment sites anonymous, it’s important to understand that we’re not talking about a demo or a pilot project here—these robots are out there, in hospitals, being as useful as they can.