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6/6/2007
04:16 PM
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The Disembodied Professor

The Nursing Institute of West Central Ohio will use robots to allow nursing faculty to teach from remote locations.

Educators annoyed by the mental absence of gadget-engaged students now have their revenge: They can be physically absent while they teach.

The Nursing Institute of West Central Ohio today said it would begin using the Remote Presence Robotic System (RP-7) to allow nursing faculty to teach from remote locations.

Debi Sampsel, executive director of the institute, said in a statement that the RP-7 would help alleviate a shortage of nursing faculty. "As baby boomer nurses in education approach retirement, this technology will provide them with a new career option," she said. "This cutting-edge technology makes it possible for nursing faculty with chronic disorders or disabilities to continue to contribute to nursing education. It provides a seasoned workforce faculty with an option to work while on vacation or in retirement from anywhere in the world."

The vacation curtailment potential of the RP-7 is perhaps its least compelling feature. Resembling the Jetsons' domestic robot Rosie following a flat-screen head transplant, the 200-pound RP-7 has a camera that lets its laptop-equipped remote operator see and maneuver. A second camera linked to the laptop sends the operator's face to the robot's head-screen, in effect humanizing the machine.

The RP-7 relies on "a patented Holonomic drive system to achieve omnidirectional or human-like mobility," according to its manufacturer, InTouch Health. "Under the direct control of a physician, the robot can be safely maneuvered throughout the hospital environment. Rolling on three spherical balls rather than wheels, the robot can be easily steered down a hallway, alongside a patient bed or nursing station, and around hospital equipment."

Over 100 InTouch Health robots have been deployed in hospitals around the world, without reports of any machine uprising, or patient rebellion for that matter. According to the company, studies indicate that patients would rather converse with a familiar disembodied doctor than deal with an unknown physician.

It's not clear that doctors are keen to reciprocate by weighing down their golf bags with a laptop control unit.

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