iRobot's RP-VITA Gains Traction: What This Means for Investors

Well, that was fast.

As if iRobot's (NASDAQ: IRBT  ) strong first quarter results weren't enough, shares of the robot maker rose more than 3% yesterday and touched a new 52-week high after the company announced the first official adopters of its RP-VITA medical telepresence robots.

Just two weeks ago, I noted that things seemed to be moving along nicely for RP-VITA. After all, management had recently told investors as many as a dozen of the automatons had already found their way into hospitals around the continent -- though at the time it looked like they were simply putting the robot through its paces.

As a result, I had warned investors to be careful not to expect much of an impact from a revenue standpoint, especially considering that the company also only just started shipping the bots to partner InTouch Health last quarter to be outfitted with InTouch's specialized medical equipment.

In addition, unlike incredibly expensive medical robots from the likes of MAKO Surgical  (UNKNOWN: MAKO.DL  ) and Intuitive Surgical  (NASDAQ: ISRG  ) -- the costs for which can easily run into the seven-figure range -- iRobot's RP-VITA was to be available through a leasing model for a very reasonable $4,000 to $6,000 per month.

The early adopters
Based on today's news, however, it's safe to say that medical professionals seem to think RP-VITA is well worth the price.

All told, seven major hospitals are now incorporating RP-VITA into their day-to-day operations, including Dignity Health in Sacramento, Calif.; Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Orange County; Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif.; Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles; Ohio State Wexner Medical Center in Columbus; St. Mary's Medical Center in Huntington, W. Va.; and Instituto de Salud del Estado de Mexico in Toluca, Mexico.

Each is using one or more of RP-VITA's available clinical services, which offer specialized solutions to remotely handle cases including stroke, intensive care, psychiatry, newborn care, and pediatrics. What's more, RP-VITA offers physicians the ability to send a robot to a patient's bedside from anywhere in the world through a simple iPad interface, causing "virtually no disruption to the existing procedures of hospital staff" thanks to the robot's ability to avoid people and obstacles as it autonomously navigates through busy hospital environments.

Assuming the previous cost estimates for a monthly lease are accurate, these first seven hospitals will add just over half a million dollars per year to the coffers of iRobot and InTouch Health. Of course, that's a tiny fraction of the approximately $490 million in sales iRobot expects in 2013. Still, they've got to start somewhere, right?

Long-term investors should also remember that RP-VITA is only the first system built on iRobot's Ava robotics platform, and the company is looking forward to finding new applications for the promising technology after hospitals prove its worth.

All things considered, this a great start for the platform and one of the many reasons I'll be hanging tight to my shares of iRobot for the foreseeable future.

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