The morning keynote panel at the Pacific Design and Manufacturing show earlier this month, revealed a wide range of bleeding edge technology. The presentation, Tech Disruptors Transforming the Robotics Revolution, included Hari Nayar, principal technologist and supervisor of Robotic Surface Mobility Group at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab; David Noonan, director of systems and robotics at Auris Health; and Brian Schmitz, director of surgical robotics at Stryker. The moderator was Lori Jordan, former director of business development for AI and ML at Microsoft.
David Noonan explained the robotics technology that allows sensors to enter the lung to study problematic nodules.
With the Monarch Platform, Auris Health deploys flexible robotics in endoscopy. The system uses small cameras and tools to enter the body through its natural openings. (Image source: Auris Health)
Noonan noted that patient care is no longer pre-determined by the limitations of traditional tools. Auris Health creates platforms designed to enhance physician capabilities. “The goal is to use minimally invasive techniques that create new categories of care that can redefine optimal patient outcomes,” said Noonan. “We provide the ability to reach parts of the lung we couldn’t reach before.”
Getting the sensors in the lung is one challenge. Navigating through the lung is even more of a challenge. “You need three hands to manipulate the tool. We solve this issue through robotics,” said Noonan. “The ability to provide the control is the true innovation. A five-year-old can manipulate it in our test system.”
Once the robotics system’s sensors enter the lung, operators can use them for diagnosis. Auris Health, however, sees possibilities beyond observation. “Our patients come in with a suspicious nodule in the lung, and the robot goes through the lung to find it. We’re looking to find the structure of the air paths. It gives us an estimate of where the issue is,” said Noonan. “Yet, we want this technology to go beyond diagnosis. We want it to treat patients. We’ll be there in three to five years.”
Can the Robot Run the Operation?
To push the technology further, Auris Health has developed autonomous navigation for the automated system. “On the robotics side, we have the technology for self-driving, but we don’t have applications for it yet,” said Noonan. “The doctors are not yet willing to let the robot do it by itself.”
The approval process for putting technology into the human body is rigorous. Medical technology companies obtain their certifications process-by-process. “There are a number of obstacles to getting a robot in a surgical theatre. You have to define what the system needs to do,” said Noonan. “You can build a prototype that does cool stuff but taking what works once into a production system is difficult. You have to track everything that is going on in the background in order to make sure this is safe. The approval for the hardware is a long process.”
Connecting the Actual to the Virtual
When working with robotics in the lung, Auris Health uses of blend of vision in the real lung with a digital twin of the lung. “We use the camera view and segment it with the virtual segmentation of the lung. When we get the camera view, we search the entire virtual lung,” said Noonan. “To get a computation, we do it in the real lung and that’s super hard. We do it on every single frame. If you can do that in real time, you can see it accurately.”
Tracking the lung in real-time while working with a virtual lung requires connectivity that is vulnerable to hacking. “Cybersecurity is something you have to consider,” said Noonan. “We have dedicated security staff who worry about it for us. Being connected is important. It’s the key to the rapid evolution of the product.”
Additional articles from this panel look at the advanced work on robotics by Stryker and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.