Made-in-Sarasota: METI Creates iStan Robots To Simulate Life, Death

If you think you can do a lot of cool stuff with your new iPad, imagine what you could do with a high-tech robot that looks a lot like a real person, all six-feet, 200 pounds of him.

Meet iStan, a multimllion dollar wireless patient simulator made in Sarasota.

The pupils in Stan's eyes dilate. His heart beats, sometimes faster than at other times. His blood pressure can jump to heart attack or stroke levels.  He can groan and shake in response to traumatic injuries. He can stop breathing, bleed and sweat. And, he can react to a medication error or drug overdose. In short, iStan can do everything a real Stan can do, including die. Just the thing to scare the kids next Halloween.

In the lower level of Medical Education Technologies Inc., better known as METI, dozens of work tables are spread with assorted body parts and the occasional full-size model. Technicians lean in, not with scalpels, but with the tools they need to assemble the many color-coded wires that make up the guts of the mannequin robots.  

At a time when many American manufacturers have eliminated jobs or moved them overseas, METI is an exception. Everything is made on-site at a 70,000-square-feet facility in Sarasota, the Florida-based manufacturer's global headquarters.

METI is just one of hundreds of manufacturers that call the Tampa Bay region home. The Tampa Bay Partnership reports that the Tampa Bay region still ranks in the top 20 places nationwide for medical device manufacturing.

Top Medical Devices Made In Florida
Last year, METI rolled out some 1,000 patient simulators and shipped them to nursing schools, community colleges, universities, medical schools, paramedic training programs and the military. According to the company's website, METI simulators and associated products are found in more than 70 countries and used at more than 7,000 institutions worldwide. 

The Mayo Clinic, Harvard, and many colleges in Florida including the University of Florida in Gainesville and the University of South Florida in Tampa are among customers.

Human patient simulators have revolutionized medical education by improving patient safety and taking learning to the next level, says METI CEO Michael Bernstein. In the 1960s, Resusci-Annie, the CPR dummy, made her debut to teach the public and health care professionals the basics of how to save someone's life. 

Today, high-tech human patient simulators are the gold standard. The idea is for students to become proficient in a procedure, emergency situation or typical patient exam by practicing it over and over on a realistic looking high-tech mannequin. It's trial and error with a safety net.

"I've had the opportunity to watch learners come into a simulation center," says Bernstein. "The training hasn't started yet and the students look around and are charmed by the idea of all these high-tech patient simulators. But once the exercise commences, the amusement disappears and the smile comes off the face. It can be a very high-pressure situation.  And if it doesn't go well, the students can become quite distraught."

METI is much more than just a factory for high-tech robots. The company is positioned as a provider of complete learning solutions. METI develops everything from the sophisticated software required to run an entire simulation center, as well as the specific educational modules that allow instructors to teach specific skill sets. 

For example, instructors can program the patient simulators to mimic typical human responses to just about every condition you can imagine, from allergic reactions, head injuries and exposure to chemical hazards, to near drowning, seizures and chest pain. There are even battlefield combat scenarios for training military medics.

And because the simulators are designed to respond to the student's intervention, just as an actual patient might, they offer the perfect teaching scenario.

"The instructor is running the show and at the touch of a computer screen can change the dynamics of what is going," says Bernstein. "It's on the fly training to simulate what would happen in reality.

"The whole premise is a suspension of reality; these are tools that allow an environment to be created where you can totally immerse yourself into believing that this is really happening," says Bernstein.

Designing Robots To Reflect Humans

Cameras and audio-visual systems record students' interactions, giving instructors the opportunity to play back the action and review what took place. "The after-action review is critical to learning," says Bernstein.

METI launched its first simulator in 1996. iStan arrived on the scene in 2004, initially in response to the military's request for a patient simulator that was more portable, realistic and versatile.

Today METI has a whole family of simulators with varying capabilities.  They come in adult, pediatric and infant sizes. All are designed to be as realistic as possible. BabySIM has a "layer of baby fat" that you can feel when you hold it. The fists open and clench just like a typical three-month-old might do.

Next up on METI's agenda? METI technicians are currently in R&D to develop a patient simulator that will mimic an actual birthing experience.

But it is iStan who has become the most famous outside of academic circles.  In 2009, the high-tech simulator made his debut at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, which showcased the technology for the public.  

He also had a starring role in one of the episodes of Grey's Anatomy, the popular ABC-TV hospital drama.  In the show, the chief of surgery introduces "Stan" to the assembled team of surgical interns and tells them, "He's more forgiving than most patients: You kill him, he'll keep coming back for more."

Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, Fl., who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.
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