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.
TJ, that's very funny. If you've ever had surgery, the last thing you usually see is either the ceiling above the gurney you're lying on, or the nice nurse checking to see whether you've passed out yet. No robot arms--no surgeon arms, either. I once woke up under anesthetic when I wasn't supposed to. I saw a lot of things I'd rather forget, but at least none of them had sharp edges.
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.
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?
Chuck, when searching for medical and healthcare robot subjects for this slideshow, I also noticed that there seem to be a lot of the exoskeleton models, far more than the two shown here (or four, if you count Slides 8 and 10, Toyota's two different Walk Assist models). It does look like these have been increasing over the last few years.
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.
Al, that's scary--I've heard the same thing about surgical instruments not coming back out of patients' bodies. And I agree about the need for rigorous testing for such solutions. OTOH, there are already protocols in place for such testing in medical equipment. I also agree that the potential for decreasing the truly abominable error rate of hospitals is compelling.
That is an interesting use of robots, to avoid error rates in surgery. In some ways it's similar to robotic inspection in manufacturing, where the robotic eye can see more than a human eye and can see the process more consistently.
thoudayer, thanks for the input on HAL. I would have included them but couldn't get a photo. Rob, it's interesting that most of the discussion surgical robots mean surgeon replacements, yet what's needed at least as much, and shown by Al's comment, is replacements for medical staff.
Thanks, Chuck--I love it! It looks like a simpler, more targeted version of the walking assistance robotic exoskeletons in my slideshow. I notice your article mentions those exoskeletons, and also mentions DARPA funding for them. DARPA funded the original versions of at least one of the exoskeletons in the slideshow.
Ann, How much do you think advancements with vision systems (ability to recognize objects) will play into future robotic innovations? I know that in the case of mobile robots, the ability to "recognize" the environment and software that can use rules to make intelligent decisions is a key. I would think that 3D vision systems and vision software enhancements would be key to future developments.
Al, I think vision is an integral part of robotics, both now and going forward.
I also think that the Kinect motion sensor/camera combo input device and others that may spring up like it will be key: it's so simple, it gives so much usable data and it fosters robot autonomy. Combined with a tiny camera and software, it's revolutionizing input devices and user interfaces in a lot of apps. I think this combined with the mapmaking navigation algorithms as mentioned here
I finally had to register just to make a comment...
OK so a group of us are having our monthly luncheon get together (Minnesota Mensa) and the subject of medical misdiagnoses comes up... One thing leads to another and then I see this reasonably put together slideshow on robots for use in medical environments and the subequent comments. Now my other passion, cross-pollination allows me to relate to this whole thing as follows (please bear with me)...1/ one of the first guys at this was Dean Kamen (think Segway) who developed a self-standing robotic exoskeleton that could help paraplegics climb stairs(over 20 years ago) 2/ there is technology development underway that will allow medical personell to diagnose illnesses by sampling an individual's breath and analyzing the sample. I seem to remember that there are up to 30 ailments currently detectable. 3/ This makes one think of Startrek and 'Bones' ability to scan a crew member to do his checkup 4/ While we're talking space when Startrek first came out I was told the NASA scientists visited the set and came away with over 100 ideas. (cross-pollination) 5/ and in line with NASA as a recent blog sugggested that the human shape of robots is freaky while it was NASA that made mention that the reason for this is to allow both robots and humans to use the same tools I could go on but the end point is, it is long past time for the medical profession to be automated. Robot surgeons are simply one facet-agreed? However as good as the robots or their operators may be it will still not fix the shockingly high number of accidental deaths in operating theatres in this country or the equally appalling number of operating mistakes that happe,n again, in this country! at least not until something is done about the IT/communications infrastructure in the medical community
Perhaps a start might be to follow the path of Royal Jubilee Eye Care Clinic in Victoria B.C. that when required to improve the bottom line both operationally and finacially they went outside and hired a QC guy from the Toyota Motor Corp (cross-pollination) to help them. Operations up 30%, no lay-offs, all personell happy, budget saving > $450.000/yr. and one last note, the medical Crown Stent was developed by helicopter engineers cause the bio-med folks had 'hit the wall' so to speak.
Thanks all for your time and patience, food for thought?
Thanks for your input, Pbaker. I enjoy looking at the cross-pollination possibilities of new technologies, and I agree with you that it's long past due for importing some of those into medical and hospital applications. Information about the huge number of deaths in hospitals due to errors has been out for nearly a decade in the consumer press, yet these institutions have been slow to respond. Using QC experts from a car company makes total sense, but that sort of decision apparently requires looking at the problem either with a new set of mental filters, or from outside the company or institution.
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