The healthcare industry is at a crucial juncture in the field of medical robotics. We are standing at the edge of a significant shift in the way we interact with the world and go about living our daily lives. Every day, innovations are being made which are inevitably pushing us towards a future where the majority of work will be automated or instead performed by robots.
The rise of automation and replacement of the working class with robots or machinery is not something that is necessarily ‘New’. It is an issue as old as the concept of technology that has begun to rear its head in the last decade or so. Robotic experts have set their sights on the healthcare industry. The belief is that an autonomous robot might soon become a regular member of the hospital’s medical staff; performing duties right from checking a patient’s pulse, scanning vital signs, to reading case notes or even performing surgery.
Even though the developments like that are farther in the future than what the industry experts predict, doctor-controlled robots have a huge presence in the medical field. The demand for less invasive, more patient-tailored procedures are only snowballing.
In that case, is this the beginning of a “Robot Apocalypse?” or Can these Robots make us immortal? The answer is ‘No.’ However, what it means is that the medical field is on the brink of undergoing sweeping changes which could mean better diagnostics, shorter waiting times, safer less invasive surgery, increased long-term survival rates for everyone, and reduced infection rates and is something to be excited about for everyone.
Following is the top 15 advancements in the world of Medical Robots that will transform your life and might be put your doctor out of a job! :
It is the most ubiquitous of medical robots, and is the standard for Robot-Assisted Surgeries. This is a machine which blurs the line between the “medical tool” and “robot” since the device is under the full control of the surgeon. However, the advancements it has fostered are simply astounding. Using the daVinci robotic system, the operations can be performed with just a few tiny incisions and with absolute precision, which means less bleeding, reduced risk of infection, and faster healing. While the da Vinci robot has been around for a while now, it continues to become more advanced. Although, the big tech firms are quick on their heels to develop similar daVinci systems with more autonomous features with a wide range of abilities. Let us wait to watch what’s next in this field.
2. Actuated and Sensory Prosthetics:
The prosthetics field has made incredible advancements in the last few years that the questions are no longer, ” Can we make a develop a suitable replacement for a limb” but rather, can we design something even better than nature?” At the MIT Biomechatronics Lab, the researchers have created gyroscopically actuated robotic limbs that are capable of tracking their own position in t 3D space while adjusting their joints upwards of approx 750 times per second. On top of this, they have developed a bionic skin and neural implant system which interface with the nervous system enabling the user to receive tactile feedback from the prothetic and volitionally control it as one could with a normal limb. This is a significant leap forward in the unification of ‘Man vs Machine,’ and also a great relief for the over two million amputees in the US alone.
The robotic exoskeletons have more medical applications more than the superheroes. For starters, they are used to help people with paralysis to walk again, which is nothing short of a miracle, but a significant breakthrough. They can also be used for fixing rehabilitation or malformations after a spinal cord or brain injury by providing weak muscles with the extra support they need to perform the movements and heal the damage. The exoskeletons work through a combination of pre-set and input movements, however, with developments in neural interfaces. It is a matter of time before a direct mind-controlled exoskeleton is available widely similar to an Iron Man.
4. Endoscopy Bot:
Endoscopy is a procedure in which a small camera is shoved into the body through a “natural opening” to search for foreign objects, damage, or traces of the disease. It is a very uncomfortable and extremely delicate procedure that might be a thing of past. With the latest developments, companies like ‘Medineering’ make use of flexible, slender robots that can be driven like an RC car to the precise spot the doctor needs. They can even hold there without causing any tremor of human hands and deploy the full range of tools right from taking a biopsy to cauterising a wound. The more impressive robots are called “capsule endoscopies” in which the procedure is boiled down to the simple act of swallowing a pill-sized robot which travels along the digestive tract which helps in taking pictures and gathering the data which can be sent directly to a processor for diagnostics.
5. Disinfectant Bots:
The truth about hospitals is that they are extremely dirty places. Patients may go there for treatment but at times, might leave with newer sicknesses. However, hospitals administer large amounts of antibiotics which can become a breeding ground for some of the worst antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Therefore, it is crucial that hospital rooms be kept clean at all times. However, it is never the case since the lazy and error-prone humans are bound to make mistakes which the robots will not. New disinfecting robots move autonomously to the empty patient’s room and bombard the room with high-powered UV rays as programmed until no micro-organism is left alive.
6. Microbot targeted therapy:
These bots work near-microscopic mechanical particles to localise a drug or other therapies for a specific target site within the body. It could be used to provide radiation to a tumour or reduce the side effects of a medication confining to the organ it might be needed. What is interesting is, how the particles get to the target. There are various methods, but the latest research has developed micro-bots with tiny, helical tails which can be directed by magnetic fields to spin forward through the blood vessels to a particular spot in the body.
7. Companion Robots:
Not all medical issues are life-threatening that are fixed by robots. The fact is there are millions of elderly, mentally disabled, or infirm people who suffer from chronic loneliness and lack stimulation. Such patients also tend to be people who require periodic check-ups by caretakers that can be time-consuming. Companion bots address both the issues and are having life-changing effects on the patients. Consider them like a Tamagachi meeting Alexa which can call an ambulance if someone falls.
Buddy is a new entrant in the healthcare industry. It even interacts with its owners on an ever-changing emotional level and has won the ‘Best innovation award 2018’ for its advancements.
8. Clinical Training Robots:
In medical school, the students who have to learn on them, which is not so much fun. However, the operation game is conducted on the training robots with realistic blood-action. Although, it might not sound exciting, consider that the surgeons have until learnt either on the cadavers or on the job, but with training robots, the practicality of learning has gotten better.
9. Robotic Nurses:
Nurses are the life and integral miracle workforce, and the life-line of any medical world. However, they are also overworked and always short on time. This is where the robotic nurses come in rescue. The robotic nurses are systems that can take measurements of vital signs, fill out digital paperwork, and monitor a patient’s condition. Some of these robotic nurses are focussed at menial tasks which the nurses get suck with and are slow like moving gurneys and carts from room-to-room and even drawing blood.
10. Telepresence Robots:
You might have probably seen a telepresence robot surrogate earlier as the butt of a joke either in a trendy office or on a TV show. They look like iPad set on top of a mini Segway. The truth, however, is that they have found a vital role in the field of medicine as a way of bringing top diagnostic experts and top doctors to rural communities and underserved far-flung parts of the world. Doctors in London are now able to speak with local physicians and patients in rural India sharing their consulting and knowledge on diagnoses in real-time for a meagre cost and the effort of travelling to the patient’s location in person. However, silly as it might seem, it is very much possible that our next annual health-check could be using a remote-controlled tablet instead of a physical doctor.
11. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Diagnostics:
This is an area where robots can help the most for medicine. Using ‘Machine Learning,’ the scientists are training the AI to perform a task far better than a human by providing AI with thousands of examples. While the use-cases for the AI kind of tools in diagnostics is wide-reaching such as the FDNA system which uses the facial recognition technology to screen patients for more than 8000 diseases and rare type of genetic disorders with a high degree of accuracy. The New York University team has built an AI capable of scanning thousands of medical documents to point out the patients at risk of developing heart failure, diabetes, or paralysis. Until now the AI hasn’t been wrong, and clearly, robots are way better at giving the right diagnosis of a medical condition.
12. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Epidemiology:
Robots are incredible when it comes to identifying patterns and predicting from the data which is overwhelming for the humans, and this is why epidemiology was a logical goal for a new AI system. The bodyless robots analyse data on epidemic outbreaks from doctors on the ground and reference that with all the available medical records for predicting when or where an epidemic outbreak might happen and how to keep it from spreading.
13. Pharma Robots:
Think of this robot as a big vending machine but for drugs. However, this is an invention where you might hear about it and wonder the possibility of replacing a physical pharmacist being replaced by the machine. A PoC of pharmacy has been working flawlessly at the University of California, SFO for last five years and more have been approved for the use in hospitals in the previous ten months now.
14. Robot-assisted Biopsy:
This is very cool and potentially life-saving transformation lead by a project team called ‘MURAB’ (MRI and Ultrasound Robotic Assisted Biopsy). This surgery is a minimally invasive technique for early-stage cancer diagnoses where a robotically steered transducer is guided to a biopsy site by a novel Ultrasound or MRI combination method. The robot scans the patient to get overall data, and then a surgeon picks from the 3D image created precisely where they want to get a biopsy from. The robot comes out in the same way it came in, leaving the patient with a little more than just a paper-cut.
15. Antibacterial Nanorobots:
Last but not least, we come across the coolest robot ever. Antibacterial bots are tiny made of gold nanowires and coated with platelets with red blood cells that can clear bacterial infections directly from a patient’s blood. They can do this by mimicking a bacterium and its toxins, later ensaring them in their nanowire mesh when the bacteria gets closer. The robots can also be directed through a patient’s body with specific ultrasound to speed up the clearing process and to treat the infections localised. Since they take advantage of the bacteria’s natural response to clear them from the system, the nanorobots could potentially be used in place of broad-spectrum antibiotics which might have an immense impact in our fight against the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases.
To summarize, technology and health have come together over the last decade. Researchers and Scientists are continuously developing newer technologies that will make people healthier and happier. In the years to come, smartphone, or whatever device the world will use to access information will take away the burden from the limited number of human specialists in the medical field. However, the industry stakeholders will have to address one key factor that will govern the adoption of these next-gen innovations, and that is “Affordability” by all class of people. Any technology/solution/product/innovation has to be inclusive and not exclusive.
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