The Giraff Plus: revolutionizing remote patient care

Hospitals and physicians around the world are beginning to use telepresence robots to enhance the medical care they provide. Although many different robot models are in use in the medical field, the Giraff Plus appears to have a clear edge over the others, having been designed specifically with medical observation and monitoring functions in mind. Aided by research grants from the European Union and driven by a team of scientists and researchers principally hailing from Sweden and Italy, Giraff offers a telepresence robot whose accessories enable physicians to provide an unprecedented depth of client care.

While the Giraff can function as a multipurpose telepresence robot similar to others I've test driven, it truly shines when it is deployed as the linchpin of a comprehensive medical remote monitoring system (which is what makes it "Giraff Plus"), primarily intended to support elderly people who live alone. Accessories such as door and window sensors, a blood pressure station, a timed pill dispenser, and a pressure-sensitive mat (monitoring vital signs during sleep or rest) all relay information through the robot to a remote medical operator/observer, enabling physicians to check in with their patients or quickly respond in the case of an emergency. If you're interested in more details about how the monitoring system works, I highly recommend you watch the mini-documentaries on the Giraff website (giraffplus.eu).

The controls of the Giraff Plus are very straightforward, and the control window contains all necessary command buttons and instructions without seeming cluttered. Users drive the robot by clicking on a destination onscreen (a "trail" will appear behind the mouse pointer) and then holding the button until reaching that destination. Moving the pointer while continuing to hold down the button allows you to alter your path as you go. To pivot in place, simply double-click in the desired direction. The Giraff stands about 1.7 meters (about 5 ½ feet) tall when the "Stand" button is selected, but can be lowered using the "Sit" button. There are additional buttons for driving backward (in small increments only, as there is no rear view camera), speaker volumes (yours and the Giraff's), night vision, doing a U-turn (pivoting 180 degrees in place), and simplifying the screen by removing the buttons. The camera itself offers a curved quasi-spherical view, allowing for both good straight-ahead vision as well as some peripheral vision, and by moving the mouse wheel, a user can tilt the camera up or down (the downward range extends to a vertical view of the base). The robot must be driven back to its charging dock manually, but since it connects face-first, this isn't difficult to do.

The Giraff Plus is available worldwide and in addition to its obvious utility within the medical industry, should prove particularly attractive to companies looking for remote security solutions (the night vision, broad camera view, and door/window sensor accessories both come to mind here). Given the rising mean age of citizens in most industrialized nations, however, I see the Giraff Plus--as a comprehensive patient-monitoring system--making its greatest impact in elderly health care.

Additional Notes:
- Even with the 9-hour time difference, I felt Giraff's customer service was reasonably prompt, as well as courteous. It was a pleasure to work with Dan, the gentleman who walked me through the demo session.
- One thing Dan pointed out to me is that different nations' health care systems might impact how widely the Giraff Plus (or, indeed, competing companies' robots) are adopted and how they're used. I'm curious about whether the USA's complex--and still-evolving--health care system will accommodate the full scope of what the Giraff designers have envisioned.

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