The "Green Man" telerobot, developed by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego in the mid-80s, showed that telemanipulations could readily be performed by untrained operators using just claw hands and no force or tactile feedback. Hand dexterity and force feedback was later added to the system in the TOPS project run from 1988-1991 at SSC San Diego in conjunction with Sarcos, Inc. This effort provided a benchmark that is still relevant to gauging whether high-fidelity force-reflective telemanipulation has been attained during a development effort.
20-plus years have now passed since the demonstration of highly capable dexterous telemanipulation. This leads many to wonder why machines with hands and arms have yet to make a public appearance. A fundamental reason is that the lack of practical video-based telecommunications has driven most developers to strive for autonomous control of their "bots". But as we all know, the vast sums of R&D dollars aimed at creating robotic servants with hands and arms (i.e. "humanoids") have yet to produce a single consumer product. Media hype followed by a product vacuum for humanoid machines has been recurring for over 30 years. In essence, this cycle is what keeps the dream of practical humanoid servants, agents and comrades just that, a dream.
Society is now approaching a technological crossroads at which the cost-effective convergence of computation, machine controls, video telecommunications and machine mobility coincides with a growing need for humanoid telerobotics. We will consider here just two of several currently-fielded mobile systems (neither of which is equipped with manipulators). One system is telepresence-based, the other robotic, and both are being gainfully employed in health care environments-a market plagued with escalating costs and diminishing labor resources.
RP-7, produced by InTouch Health, Inc., is a telerobot that can be used by physicians to remotely round on hospitalized patients, view the readings of diagnostic equipment and meet with a patient's relatives or caregivers. One interesting outcome reported is that the use of RP-7 has been correlated to a reduction in the average length of patient stay. Besides indicating that an enhanced level of care is being provided, it also means that the hospital's capacity has been effectively increased. For medical facilities that frequently reach occupancy limits, the use of telerounding provides opportunity for revenue growth with little to no capital outlay or staffing changes.
Aethon Inc.'s TUG is a robotic vehicle capable of tracking and moving hospital assets, medical records, prescriptions and hospital supplies between locations. Installed in over 100 hospitals, it is clearly providing an excellent return on investment. Robotic couriers not only save cost but they allow the nursing staff to spend more time on the floor attending to the needs of the patients.
Discussion of the many benefits that can be brought to fruition by outfitting systems like RP-7 and TUG with Cedric begins in the section Mobilizing Cedric (under Applications) and is a continuing theme throughout other sections of the site.