The term "medical robots" often brings to mind large surgical systems, such as the da Vinci or Renaissance models. Many think surgical robots will be the wave of the future, since they give surgeons remote access to patients and finely tuned instruments without the need for more invasive surgery. As we've reported, some surgical robots have even been proposed for assisting with the repair of NASA satellites.
But other types of robots are helping paralyzed people and those with leg injuries walk again. And they are helping caretakers transfer patients to and from bed. For people who are completely paralyzed, some robots are being developed that will fetch and manipulate everyday objects like bottles.
Click on the photo below to view our medical robot gallery showcasing 10 different systems and apps:
A specialized example of humanoid consumer robots is the ASSIST, a two-armed mobile manipulator that fetches and manipulates objects for quadriplegics. (Source: Laboratoire d'Informatique de Robotique et de Microelectronique de Montpellier)
Robots have come a long way and are doing some very important work. I'm especially happy to see the benefits they offer people with disabilities. The only thing that bothers me is using them for mission critical functions such as surgery. Suppose the robot has a failure, (such a component failures, processor locks up, etc.) or the communication medium (camera, communication link, etc.) gets a glitch? Any component or design is subjected to failure and what make it even frighten is counterfeit components. With mission, critical products and systems such as a robot that performs surgery must be designed, built and tested to a much higher standard than those for noncritical functions.
Ann, do you know what extra steps companies take in developing, manufacturing and testing robots that perform such important functions so they can greatly reduce and/or eliminate failures?
You raise an interesting point, gsmith. I wonder what the legal implications are, and if any body of precedents has emerged, regarding liability when there's a failure or a poor outcome after an operation in which robots have been involved. I thought this was still theoretical. However, it's not. The first Da Vinci robot is now being used in some prostate and gynecological procedures.
gsmith, we've discussed this issue is some other threads. There are extremely strict rules for machines, as well as for people, who operate on us, as well as for all the materials that contact our skin, as well as for drugs, etc. etc. A surgeon could come in drunk or a component could fail during surgery. I don't know what the relative probabilities are of either one occurring. Personally, I think I'd trust the robot. In any case, that's what regulations are for. The Intuitive Surgical website (makers of da Vinci) has info on this.
Ann, Interesting stuff. DN did an article a couple years ago featuring Robotic Systems & Technology and an interesting robot, PenelopeCS, working to revolutionize the way hospitals manage their inventory of surgical instruments. Penelope CS automates key functions in the hospital's sterile supply department where used/dirty surgical instruments are cleaned, sorted, inspected and repacked into containers to be sterilized for the next procedure.At that time, they said that robots in the operating room but primarily teleoperated devices that basically serve as sophisticated power steering for the surgeon. RST was developing technology centered on designing machine vision routines for surgical instruments and the intelligence built into its software to recognize and organize the instruments. They were working on really a new kind of robotics in the sense that it's more involved with people. The goal was to advance both robotics and hospital efficiency using a man-machine partnership.
Thanks, Al. That's a very interesting use of robotics in hospitals, which are riddled with human error to the tune of 100,000 or more deaths per year in the US alone caused by those errors. Automating all the many functions that hospital personnel must do sounds like a potentially wonderful app. I'm sure someone will criticize this concept and worry about parts failures--I did when first encountering the idea of robot surgeons--but right now the human performance specs are pretty lousy, and I bet robots could best them.
Ann, I can't remember all of the details but I remember from the interviews that leaving surgical instruments "behind" inside patients was identified as a major cause of malpractice claims. As with any software-based solution, obviously there needs to be extensive testing to validate the design and system reliability/accuracy, but there is no question that robots/machines can be more consistent and create fewer errors than human workers. But there is also just cause for caution in adopting these kinds of technological solutions.
Great slide show, Ann. I'm intrigued by what appears to be the growth of so-called "exoskeletons." I would classify four of these devices as exoskeletons. All seem to use some kind of closed loop feedback. Are we starting to see more of this technology?
In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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