Medical Devices Featured Article

February 02, 2011

iRobot Designs a Connected Health Platform for Smart Home Medical Devices

Since launching its healthcare business division in 2009 and demonstrating a prototype of its robotic home health assistant at TEDMED the same year, iRobot has been relatively quiet about its plans for commercialization of robot-assisted healthcare. But it has been active behind the scenes in patenting key aspects of its plans; as noted in our last article, iRobot received a patent in May 2010 on the invention of a very capable Companion Robot for Personal Interaction.

We have already discussed how the iRobot patent describes methods of the Companion Robot interacting and communicating with human healthcare recipients to create a trusted relationship. Even more interesting, is how the iRobot patent positions its Companion Robot to take over the hotly contested role of integrated communications platform for multiple smart devices in a connected home. While most analysts are looking to smart energy, home automation or smartphone vendors to take the lead in integrating the proliferation of wireless devices in the typical home, some authors have predicted that connected home health providers will play an important role. In her recently published book Smart Products, Smarter Services, Mary Cronin (News - Alert) devotes an entire chapter to the smart home. Her conclusion is as follows:

“Most of the elements of a connected smart home are available as separate smart products and networking components. But the three industry sectors that would benefit most from creating an integrated smart ecosystem for home networking, the entertainment, health, and energy sectors, are competing with each other and contending with unresolved business challenges.”

At first it might not seem that a robot healthcare companion would be a leading candidate to become a trusted smart home integration platform, but this is quite clearly what iRobot has in mind.

The patent introduces the topic of smart home integration by noting that provisions are made for plugging a wide range of health assisting appliances into the Companion Robot. In addition to providing power, network access, security and mobility services to these devices, the robot gives these devices a common, compelling and trusted – dare we say it – human interface.

Besides supporting other home health devices, the iRobot patent describes how the Companion Robot can recognize other home devices such as televisions, DVD players, lighting, fans, cable boxes and air conditioners, retrieve their command codes from a central database and allow the resident to control these devices through the robot, using the same UI that has become familiar through repeated health-related interactions with the robot.

Moving beyond simply controlling non-health home devices, the patent envisions scenarios in which the robot provides assistance in paying bills, reducing clutter, interacting with contractors and door-to-door salesmen, conducting housing safety inspections, and accompanying the resident on shopping trips. The robot prepares for this level of assistance by keeping track of in-home activities and resident behavior patterns. It tracks prior shopping selections and in-house food inventories through scanning bar codes and storing information about expiration dates and the human resident’s normal eating patterns. Like a smart shopper, the robot knows when the milk in the refrigerator is past its use-by date and needs to be replaced—and with the appropriate trusted connections, it can add such items to the shopping list.

It might seem like a step too far for a Robot Companion that is still in development to take on the critical role of an integration platform for the connected home. But none of the other contenders, from Cisco to Microsoft to more recent home integrations entrants such as Apple (News - Alert) and Google have managed to create a compelling integration offer. Why not a trusted healthcare robot? 

iRobot was founded in 1990 and is now a $300 million publically traded company. The company started modestly with home cleaning robots such as the Roomba and the Scooba and through first-hand market experience with these products accumulated a deep understanding of home robotics. The iRobot Companion Robot for Personal Interaction is based on a broad vision for smart home integration. It remains to be seen whether that visionary patent will eventually be backed up with marketable products and an ability to execute.

MedHealthWorld analyzes connected health solutions ranging from Robot Companions to medical alert devices for seniors, iPhone (News - Alert) health apps and home monitoring of vital signs.

Scott Guthery is co-author of 2 books on smart card development, 2 books on SIM and mobile application development and an inventor on 34 issued patents including the original Java Card´┐Ż patent. To read more of Scott's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jaclyn Allard


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