Robots have fascinated humans for hundreds of years; Leonardo da Vinci even drew a sketch of a humanoid robot as early as 1495. Our basic idea of a robot is a machine with a humanoid face and body, featuring a computer-esque voice and performing all the actions of a normal person.
However, this is not the reality of the situation. A robot is actually any machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.
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Why were robots incorporated in the field of medicine?
Human error is estimated to cause between 44,000 and 98,000 patient deaths every year. In the medical field, extreme precision is critical and essential for human safety. Robots are important when the tasks performed have a slim margin for error. Over the years, thanks to major technological developments, robots are taking over the field of healthcare. More and more surgeons are using robot-assisted arms to perform surgeries. In the past, surgeons needed to make large incisions, which left behind massive, ugly scars. A huge advantage of using robots is the minimal incisions that need to be made in order for them to perform a surgery.
The first documented use of a robot to assist with a surgical procedure occurred in 1985 when the PUMA 560 surgical arm was used in a neurosurgical biopsy (a minimally invasive way of operating on the brain). Nowadays, surgical robots are used to perform laparoscopic surgeries, which are also called minimally invasive surgeries (MIS), or band-aid surgeries. These are modern surgical techniques in which operations are performed far from their location via small incisions (cuts).
Robots that are Transforming Healthcare:
From microbots that scrape plaque out of arteries to personal assistant robots that help care for patients, medical robots are transforming the face of healthcare. Below are some robots that are truly working wonders in the field of medicine.
(1) Da Vinci Surgical systems
Did you think that it sounds impossible for a surgeon to operate on you from London, even though you’re laying on a hospital bed in Beijing? That was impossible until the da Vinci robotic surgical system came into existence.
The da Vinci System consists of a surgeon’s console that is usually in the same room as the patient, as well as a patient-side cart with four interactive robotic arms controlled from the console. The robot arms mimic the movements of the surgeon, which are performed on the console. Over the years, this system has minimized human error to almost zero. This system has become so popular that over the past decade, more than 1.5 million surgeries have been performed worldwide using the system.
Surgeons from anywhere can access this machine and perform surgery with its corresponding counterparts located in an OR (Operating Room). There was even a live webcast of a double-vessel bypass surgery on a beating human heart. I would definitely prefer this robot’s sure hands over a surgeon’s shaky ones.
What if I told you that it’s now possible to destroy tumors inside the body without making a single incision! CyberKnife is another non-invasive alternative to surgery for the treatment of both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors anywhere in the body. Although its name may conjure images of scalpels and surgery, the CyberKnife treatment involves no cutting. In fact, the CyberKnife System is the world’s first and only robotic radiosurgery system designed to treat tumors throughout the body non-invasively (without cutting).
The two main elements of the CyberKnife are (1) the radiation produced from a small linear particle accelerator and (2) a robotic arm that allows the energy to be directed at any part of the body from any direction. First, the position of the tumor is located inside the body. Then, the machine determines the dose of radiation that is needed to be supplied according to how serious the tumor is.
This is truly a revolutionary device for people that need to undergo cancer treatment, but its high cost is a major drawback.
(3) The HeartLander
Surgeons willing to perform cardiac procedures without chest-cracking or dangerous anesthesia would be extremely interested in this robot. The HeartLander is a small, minimally invasive robot that can move along the surface of the human heart under the control of a surgeon. It reduces the possibilities of damaging the heart considerably.
The novelty of this machine is that it adheres only to the outer walls of the heart, moves according to the surgeon’s commands, and administers the cure.
The biggest advantage of this device is its cost. It is available very cheaply and is also disposable.
This device is yet to receive the green light from the relevant authorities, but initial operations on animals have proven to be successful.
(4) Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot (BEAR)
This is perhaps the most interesting thing you’ll read all day. The Massachusetts-based company Vecna Robotics is developing an ambitious plan to create a humanoid robot capable of extracting wounded soldiers from danger zones, such as battlefields, nuclear and chemical contaminated areas, and collapsed buildings. This will eliminate any additional risk to human life.
The robot is remote-controlled with many advanced sensors. The robots are able to cross bumpy ground effortlessly, all thanks to a combination of gyroscopes (a device used to analyze the orientation of Earth’s axis) and computer-controlled motors that give the robot the same stability as a Segway.
The robot’s specifications include a six-foot frame, a hydraulic upper body that can lift 500 lbs, a steel torso, and can dynamically balance a dummy in its arms in an upright position for about 50 minutes.
Other applications of BEAR include search and rescue operations, transporting supplies, lifting heavy objects, handling hazardous materials and inspecting for mines.
Although the project was launched in 2006, we have yet to see robots doing crazy stunts on the battlefields (like in Transformers).
(5) The DEKA arm
The DEKA arm (nicknamed Luke after Luke Skywalker from Star Wars) is a robotic arm developed by Dean Kamen, who is also the inventor of the Segway. However, DEKA is no ordinary robotic arm. This arm will allow amputees to control this prosthetic arm just like a real are, using only their own thoughts. It’s basically as good as having a fresh new arm. (what a major leap for science!). It was initially designed to provide better replacements for amputees that returned to their home countries as Iraq war veterans.
The DEKA Arm System is a battery-powered device that blends multiple approaches. Some of the DEKA’s functions are controlled by myoelectricity, which means that the device senses movements in various muscle groups via attached electrodes, and then converts those muscle movements into motor control. This provides more natural movement capability to the user.
It’s even greater news that this product just received FDA approval, which means that it can now be sold commercially.
The 21st century has been hugely significant when it comes to the evolution of technology in the field of healthcare. From where I’m sitting, it looks like things will only continue getting better from here.