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Tencent Cloud slaps googly eyes on a monitor, says it can care for oldies

It's called 'i-Care' and it screams 'I don't, actually'

Tencent Cloud has released an odd robot-adjacent device designed to provide telemedicine services.

The effort is called i-Care and is the result of a tie up with USA-based IT services Millennium Technology Services (MTS)'s subsidiary Invincible Technology. The two companies set out to create "a digital solution that aims to improve patients' experience and quality of life as well as draw patients, families and caregivers closer than ever."

"Customers' habits and expectations have evolved dramatically over the last few years across various industries including the medical and healthcare field, driven by the further emergence of digital technologies and cloud computing," said Tencent Cloud in a canned statement.

But i-Care isn't just an opportunity to jump onto the pandemic-era bandwagon carrying mediocre remote services. It also provides a use case for Tencent Cloud, which provides tech that's meant to improve "patient comfort and … healthcare outcomes."

It's hard to see how the machine will improve anything – it appears to be a monitor on mounted on a swiveling stand so its googly eyes can follow patients around the room. Just why designers went for floating eyes rather than something more human is not explained. Nor is how a baby boomer might react to having their autumn years overseen by a cartoon figure.


The i-Care. Click to enlarge

Behind its googly eyes, the machine offers a Windows-like tiled UI – complete with a friendly homepage, calendar and weather, video conferencing, picture gallery, and apps.

The robot has a 360-degree rotatable base station and also comes with an emergency button so it can help users if they fall or experience other emergencies.

The i-Care device and service also offers instant messaging, speech-to-text service that enables automatic generation of onscreen subtitles for hearing-impaired patients as well as real-time Chinese-English translation, and predictive analysis of patients' health risk.

Tencent Cloud said it is working with i-Care to "perform testing on medical monitoring using machine learning and computer vision" to read vital signs. Other planned features include reading hand gestures, facial expression analytics and medication reminders.

Tencent – the Chinese company responsible for WeChat – already boasts several initiatives in the healthcare vertical. WeChat itself offers services like booking medical appointments, paying hospital bills, purchasing medicines and doctor consults. The company also invest in medical startups and counts among its products in the vertical both connectivity and platforms.

"We are already working with different cities to create a middle layer, so that the hospitals can still have their own information living in their own server while also contributing to a regional health-information system," Alex Ng, vice president of Tencent Healthcare, told consulting firm McKinsey back in pre-pandemic 2019.

Ng said that China is heading toward that reality while Australia and Scandinavia have been doing it to some degree for years.

And while a dedicated telehealth computer in your home might seem ridiculous in some parts of the world, in a country like China – notorious for having to wait in line half a day to see a doctor – it might be genius. Just as long as it's not expected to replace an actual medical professional. ®

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