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Case Study: IRobot

Perhaps, the predictions of future technological improvements filmed in the cult trilogy Back to the Future by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg have not translated into reality yet, and Marty McFly does not fly on the air skateboard. However, an incredible progress in the robotics has achieved considerable success and surpassed even the most courageous expectations. In addition to the modified models of phones, computers and a variety of gadgets, the robotics has become one of the most promising industries in the production of the smart technology. Home appliances that help to clean the house or brush dirty and dusty surfaces; military equipment, which explores a variety of surfaces that are physically inaccessible to humans; and smart toys – all of them are only an insignificant part in the list of innovations.

The company IRobot is an advanced organization that creates different types of robots and has gained immense popularity not only in the United States but around the world, as well (Ackerman 2012). A few years ago, it presented a new development in the biomedical field – the robot called IR-Vita, which provides help not only to doctors but also to patients thus opening new perspectives for the healthcare industry. Therefore, it is possible to claim that the biomedical direction defines the future development of the robotics and the company, in particular. This paper aims to study the phenomenon of biomedical research. It examines the trends that are the most common in the world nowadays as well as the possible ways of their further development. In addition, it considers the types of biomedical robots, which IRobot designed during the last decade, as well as the opportunities that they give to the world of medicine.

IRobot Company was founded in 1990 thanks to the three researchers, Rodney Brooks, Helen Greiner and Colin Angle, who previously worked at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. Already in 1998 they signed a contract aimed at the creation of PackBot. In 2002, they presented the most popular and best-selling development Roomba, a home robot vacuum cleaner, whose sales in 2004 reached a million’s point.

For the moment, the company has sold more than eight million copies of such robots and has developed more than five thousand robots for the defense and protection of the property or a specific area. However, Roomba is still a universal home model (Wilson 2014). Among other robots, the company distinguishes Scooba and Braava, the robots able to clean the most difficult floor surfaces. The models such as Create allow to experiment with a variety of interface connections to different gadgets such as smartphones, cameras, or laptops; Verro are able to clean swimming pools or any objects located under the water, and Looj designed for cleaning drains and pipes.

In addition to the household appliances, IRobot has designed such products as Dirt Dog, cleaning the small office objects in the form of buttons or bolts, a toy robot My Real Baby, similar to the real infant, as well as ConnectR. However, these units were taken out of production due to their low popularity.

IRobot is cooperating with the military units and the police, developing entire lines of the unique models. The first model Ariel received a significant resonance in the military field in 1996. It was intended for moving and removing the mines in any environment, including water. Further, Urbie and SWARM followed. PackBot, the most known series, is used for the reconnaissance, neutralization of explosive compounds, and other tasks (Ricker 2014). More than 3,000 of these copies are located in Iraq and Afghanistan at the military stations. Warrior, SUGV, R-Gator, Negotiator, Transphibian, Chembot, Ember, AIRarm and FirstLook are the most innovative developments in this area. They are specialized in narrow fields such as chemical pollution or recognition of the enemies (The Christian Science Monitor 2014).

However, the sensational news was the implementation of the robot IR-Vita, which is able to assist the medical staff and take care of the patients. The first robot that performs these operations remotely was developed together with the company InTouch Health in 2007. The company distinguishes three main areas in which the robot operates. The first one of them is “Team-Based Care”, where medical personnel such as nurses, social workers, doctors, and pharmacists interact with the patients and find out their future line of action in treatment. The second “Assisting Care Delivery” assists in handling a variety of useful information within a framework of a patient’s condition, health assessment, determination of symptoms, and so on. The third “Patient-Family Experience” provides an opportunity for the interaction between patients, doctors and family members from any location of the globe.

Moreover, the most emblematic and important features of this robot are disclosed in the functional range, provided by IRobot, including the Autonomous Navigation Capabilities, which occupies the first place in the range of its outstanding abilities. The installed software allows the robot to move to specified areas without requiring the presets and settings. Function Control Station App for iPad offered controlled access to the robot from any city in the world by connecting it to the gadget. The Cloud-Based technology, built on SureConnect scheme provides an uninterrupted connection to the network, being the most reliable compared to the rest of similar items. Moreover, the robot ensures a complete safety and effective assisting and counseling from a medical point of view. The company also guarantees a return on investment of any client funds and technical support that may be needed in the operation of the robot. IR-Vita is used by many medical institutions and rehabilitation centers as full employees. These robots relieve people from the repetition of routine activities, providing additional time for other important activities. Nevertheless, IR-Vita is not the latest development. IRobot presented a modernized model iRobot Ava 500. Ava 500 incorporates the functions of IR-Vita. However, it is aimed at the business segment, respectively having several other advantages. As the video guide, it provides customers with “face-to-face” meetings, allows organizing them in the open air, eliminates the need for expensive travel and flights, enhances the quality of the transmitted information, and the productivity of employees and HR managers.

The IRobot made a splash in the world of biomedical technology, but, despite this, other companies have also introduced a number of developments, which will change the face of the modern medicine in the future. For example, the so-called CosmoBot is engaged in the robotic therapy, a phenomenon that has achieved a significant spread in the recent years. Medical institutions and psychologists use this device to facilitate the work with mentally retarded children in the age group of 6-12 years. The robot is the most effective in the long-term therapy, does not pose any threat to children, and, according to the experts, it causes a huge interest from the patients, improving their interaction abilities and treatment. Concerning similar child therapy, a Japanese company AIST has developed a robot PARO, which changes the mood depending on the condition of the child.

Many modern and complex operations are performed by such micro-robots as Robot Pills and Plaque Busters (McNickle 6). They move freely within the body, conducting precise and delicate manipulations. Steerable Surgeons performs complex operations on the retina of the eyes and participates in other operations, related to the ocular therapy. Usually, micro robots are equipped with a camera, magnet, set of mechanical legs, and wireless chip. They reach a maximum of two centimeters in length and are most often used to diagnose any disease.

In 2001, several researchers presented a unique development – a robot Anybot. Instead the television and audio immersion that IR-Vita provides to its customers, the robot carries the whole immersive of telepresence, that is, the controlled remote control. Anybot allows collecting data from different locations quickly and efficiently thanks to the uninterrupted management by the client.

The Swisslog Robot Courier is another unique invention. The autonomous robot is equipped with the built-in electronic card, through which it moves and delivers consumables or medicines to the medical staff. Moreover, the robot chooses an optimal route, reducing energy costs and time. If the traffic is overloaded, the robot makes stops and waits or paves another route. Also, if it is necessary, it may make signals or inform the personnel through the voice messages.

However, despite the considered above inventions, the IR-Vita remains the most advanced robot of all the medical assistants and biomedical devices because it offers a range of services, which, in the usual practice, are performed by a nurse. Without a doubt, the further improvement of the robot will lead to narrowing the areas of specialization and providing robotic devices for more focused areas, as it has happened in military equipment. According to the laws of the market, demand creates supply; thus, the demand for IR-Vita grows every day, making the robot appear in various clinics and hospitals.

Therefore, this paper reviewed the development of the modern medical trends, studied the history of the company IRobot and its products, as well as its innovative robot IR-Vita in the context of the latest global developments of the robotics. Thus, it is possible to state that the biomedical area defines the future not only of the company but also the medicine industry, in general.

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