Frequently Asked Questions
In this section you will find answers to frequently asked questions regarding telepresence robots divided into different categories. Whether you have questions about business telepresence robots, medical telepresence robots, or about telepresence robots in general, we hope you will find help here. If you have a question that is not answered below, please feel free to submit it via our Contact Us form.
GENERAL TELEPRESENCE ROBOT QUESTIONS
What is a Telepresence Robot?
A telepresence robot is a computer, tablet, or smartphone-controlled robot which allows those who engage with the robot to view and hear the robot’s operator while the operator can view what the robot is “looking” at, as well as hear sound at the robot’s location. In short, a telepresence robot provides you with a remote presence; short of touching items, you are ‘on location’ whenever and nearly wherever you wish to be.
Telepresence robots have often been referred to as “skype on wheels.” However, telepresence robots (also known as virtual presence robots or remote presence robots) are much more. For example, instead of having a static view of participants (as with skype and other video conferencing applications), the controller of the robot is able to control what they wish to see, as opposed to needing someone to point a camera at a particular person. Many telepresence robots come equipped with such features as laser pointers, zoom capabilities, and autonomous driving for enhanced communication and convenience. With this total control of the robots, users can view and interact with remote environments, whether hospitals or homes for the elderly, manufacturing plants or warehouses, provided the robot is turned on and retains an internet connection, saving themselves large quantities of time, and hundreds or thousands of dollars in travel expenses.
The remote presence capabilities provided by telepresence robots enables surgeons to assist peers at different locations across the globe, business owners to view store or warehouse setups or assembly line processes, sick children to attend classes and interact with their classmates, doctors to interact with patients while not on location, and even something as simple as allowing grandparents to watch their grandchildren while they play, miles away.
For a more detailed explanation, feel free to click here before viewing the telepresence robots for yourself.
Visit our Robots page to find telepresence robot pictures, videos, features, and all the other information you need to make the most informed decision for purchasing a telepresence robot for your hospital, business, or home. Additionally, you may view the Reviews page on our site to learn what experiences other users of telepresence robots have had or to create your own review to help others in their own decision making.
What is a Stationary Telepresence Robot?
A stationary telepresence robot is, simply put, a robot which itself can not be driven around as other telepresence robots can be. However, stationary telepresence robots have a screen that can be controlled by users, enabling them to view their surroundings.
Some of these robots have unique features such as the “Follow Me” feature which, as one example, allows you to create a video while the robot’s camera “follows” you around the room. A similar feature allows you to record the motion of the robot for later playback, which enables you to have a video or image or slideshow displayed while the screen rotates around as programmed.
An advantage that stationary telepresence robots have over mobile robots is that there is no worry of accidentally running into furniture or, more importantly, people. Another advantage is that they are far less likely to lose network connectivity (WiFi, etc) because they are stationary and the robot will not lose its connection as it may if it were being driven around as a mobile telepresence robot would be.
A final note to consider is that stationary telepresence robots are often much less expensive than robots which are mobile. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character, Sherlock Holmes, once uttered a statement to the effect that someone who is wise gathers as much information as possible before making a decision. The knowledge that stationary robots are less expensive should propogate more discussion when deciding about which telepresence robot will be most helpful for your business or hospital. Decision-makers may consider placing a stationary robot in each office or room as an alternative to the mobile options.
If you are interested in viewing the available stationary telepresence robots and how they can be used, visit our Robots page, select “Stationary Telepresence” from the “Type” dropdown menu, and click the blue “Apply” button. From there you will find robot videos, images, reviews, and other information to help you in your decision of which robot to purchase. If you have any further questions, feel free to return to our Telepresence Robots FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page or contact us here.
What do I need to make it work?
Telepresence robots operate using an internet connection. Some robots can be operated using a 4G LTE or other type of cell network. However, in most cases the robot will need Wi-Fi access. To ensure smoother control in larger areas and to eliminate “dead areas,” additional Wi-Fi access points can be positioned around your business, hospital, or home in a manner which will allow the Wi-Fi connections to overlap so the robot can transfer seamlessly from one Wi-Fi point to the next.
While some telepresence robots have built-in monitors, and some have provided tablets, a few others require you to purchase your own tablet which can be simply connected to the robot.
Additionally, telepresence robots are controlled using personal computers, smart phones, or tablets. Remote users will need one of those devices to operate and control the robot.
What if I do not have a reliable Wi-Fi connection?
Several telepresence robots have the capability of operating on cell networks such as 4G. In most cases, the fees associated with the cell service will be based on your mobile providers data-usage rates. Typically, you will not incur any monthly fees from the telepresence robot manufacturer.
How do I charge the battery on the telepresence robot?
Most telepresence robots can be charged by using a charging dock unique to that particular robot. Many telepresence robots have what we call the “Auto-Docking” or “Auto-Charging” feature. This feature typically involves the remote user simply needing to press a button to have the telepresence robot return to the charger on its own. Some robots will do that from anywhere, while some require you to drive the robot to within clear sight distance or within 10-15 feet of the dock prior to pressing the “Auto-Dock” button.
Additionally, some robots will return to the charging dock on their own when the battery power is low.
If a manufacturer does not include the charging dock in the purchase, this usually signifies that this particular telepresence robot must be plugged directly into a wall socket using an included power cord.
BUSINESS TELEPRESENCE ROBOT QUESTIONS
What features are offered?
There are many features which telepresence robots of all types share, whether they are robots used in the home, office, school, or hospital. One of the more common features is HD video resolution for the robot’s video screen so the user(s) of the robot will appear clearly to those interacting with the robot. Other features include:
– HD cameras
– Auto-docking (e.g. drive the robot to within a few feet of the dock and click a button to make the robot dock itself)
– Zoom capabilities
– Ability to raise/lower volume and speed of the telepresence robot
– Ability to swivel/tilt the head (or camera itself) of the robot
– Crash avoidance features (either obstacle detection and/or avoidance, or through the use of a downward facing camera). Some robots have a “360 degree” camera which shows all of the area around the base, so you can see in all directions around you.
Different types of robots may have great variance concerning many of their features. Telemedicine robots, more commonly referred to as medical telepresence robots, have a distinct set of features. For example, they are capable of plugging into medical systems to monitor patient information, such as vital signs and patient history, and transmit that information to hospital staff and surgeons so they can view patient information on the same screen with their video conference with the patient or hospital staff. Additionally, medical telepresence robots and business telepresence robots may share such features as laser pointers and autonomous navigation. Autonomout navigation is linked to mapping technology, where a telepresence robot is programmed with the layout of a building and, upon clicking on a specific location, the robot will navigate to that location without any assistance from the robot operator. Usually, you can remain in a video call while the robot moves, leaving your hands free to type or write while the robot drives for you.
A full list of features can be found on our robots page.
Which is better for driving the robot: Computer or Smartphone/Tablet?
While each person may have different preferences, we try to highlight some of the advantages for driving a telepresence robot using a computer vs a smartphone or tablet.
– PCs/laptops have larger screens. In addition to the larger view, this enables more features to be shown on the screen (such as a downward facing camera view, and options that can be clicked that otherwise could not be shown due to limited space).
– If using a smartphone or tablet you need to make sure you point the camera at yourself (which may be simple for a couple minutes but may become rather cumbersome on longer video calls).
– On a PC there is no need to worry about the battery on your phone/tablet being drained.
– Oftentimes, you can operate telepresence robots by simply logging in on a web browser, and don’t even need to install an app.
– PCs allow for greater multitasking capability since you can have multiple windows open. Write or read notes while still looking at the same screen.
– Typically easier to drive a robot using a PC. No need to worry about fingers slipping off the screen, or needing to be too precise with which part of the screen you press.
If you can think of any other advantages or disadvantages of using a PC to a smartphone or tablet, or if you have any related questions, feel free to let us know by reaching out via our Contact Us page!
HOSPITAL TELEPRESENCE ROBOT QUESTIONS
Are Telepresence Robots HIPAA Compliant?
You may be familiar with a very short, glib response to the question, which says, “Telepresence robots do not need to be HIPAA compliant.” However, the full answer is more complex. If you are familiar with HIPAA, you can fast-forward to the second paragraph. For those who are unaware of the term, HIPAA stands for “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,” a public law enacted in 1996 and since revised. In general, it is an act which sets federal standards for electronic health care transactions and the security and privacy of certain health information. Within this act, the HIPAA Privacy Rule maintains the privacy of individually identifiable health information. Related to this is the rule more germain to the issue of using telepresence robotics within the medical field, the Security Rule, which focuses on the protection of any individually identifiable health information that a covered entity uses in electronic form. As the U.S. Department of Health and Services states, that information is called “electronic protected health information.” Covered entities affected by this are 1) a health plan, 2) a health care clearinghouse, and 3) a health care provider who transmits or maintains health information in electronic form. For more information on the act and what information is protected by this section of the act, you may visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) page by clicking here. As fair warning, the articles are very dense and the language bordering on verbosity. Many will say our use of the word “bordering” shoots far short of the mark. However, it may suffice to say that HIPAA, in general, aims to protect the confidentiality and security of your health care information.
As alluded to above, the question of whether a telepresence robot needs to be HIPAA compliant is moot. In response to our query, the Office for Civil Rights and HHS stated, “we do not endorse any materials or systems as ‘HIPAA compliant.’” Therefore, while manufacturers need not list their telepresence robots as having HIPAA compliance, the covered entity (as mentioned above) must ensure that any data transmission using the robot is secured according to HIPAA standards, whether that transmission includes the creation, sending, or receiving of protected information. This includes transmission such as that achieved via the internet, extranet, private networks, and the physical movement of transportable electronic storage media, etc. An additional item to keep in mind is that, as Section 16 Part 103 of the act states, voice and video transmissions are not considered to be “transmissions via electronic media, because the information exchanged did not exist in electronic form before the transmission.”
The covered entity which employs the use of the telepresence robot is responsible for complying with HIPAA standards for all transmissions via the internet network(s) used and for complying with the standards regarding any data applications used with the robot. For example, some robots include applications where a physician can view patient information, vital records, CT scans, etc. while simultaneously interacting with the patient visually and verbally.
While in most cases the security features (such as the encryption of data) used within applications for the telepresence robotsshould be enough to satisfy requirements, we advise contacting the robot manufacturer directly to ask which application is necessary to control the robot, to utilize additional features such as sending of written data or x-rays, etc., and if those applications are properly secured and protected in accordance with HIPAA regulations. For providers interested in telemedicine, or who are already utilizing telepresence robots within their medical clinics or hospitals, ensuring that the robot’s applications allow for you to continue in compliance with HIPAA will certainly be vital.
We at TelepresenceRobots.com hope this answer is both helpful and sufficient. However, we are aware that, with the goal of being concise and helpful to visitors who are not fluent in legalese, the answer may not be as detailed as creators of the act would wish. With that said, please refer to the US. Department of Health and Human Services for more information on HIPAA, or to see if your entity is covered by the HIPAA Security Rule, or to see if your entity is in alignment with HIPAA standards. Section 164 Part 306, in particular, may be of great assistance in determining what responsibilities you have as a provider using a telepresence robot.
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