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Mayo Clinic to treat football concussions with robots

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Football game (Ed Yourdon/Flickr)
Football game (Ed Yourdon/Flickr)

Concussions are a real risk in football, but most teams don't have the resources for the kind of on-the-spot diagnosis that doctors recommend. So this season, the Mayo Clinic is testing out a new solution, traveling with the Northern Arizona University football team and bringing a telepresence bot to each game. If an NAU player suffers a particularly brutal hit, he'll be taken to the training room for a one-on-one session with the bot. Because the doctor can see, hear, and maintain eye contact with the player, it will be easier to ask questions and perform basic tests, even though the doctor will be in a hospital hundreds of miles away. From there, the doctor on call will forward recommendations on to the medical and training staff, who will make the final diagnosis.

The device behind it all is the VGo, a $6,000 telepresence bot which combines Segway-style mobility with a videoconferencing screen at eye level. Doctors say the mobility is particularly important, as it allows the doctor to follow the player's gaze for a sense of context. The bot could even go onto the field if necessary, although that's not a part of the current plans. Clinicians hope the system will be particularly useful for more remote football programs like Northern Arizona, which may not have easy access to medical care following the game.