Robots in hospitals tend to be associated with complex surgical procedures. But they have been gaining traction as a useful way to help hospitals ferry supplies and equipment around their facilities. There’s also some applications for telemedicine. Robotics Business Review held a competition highlighting technology innovations in robotics called the Game Changer Awards.
Here’s an overview of some of the entrants with medical applications:
Lifting up patients One area where nurses tend to suffer on the job injuries is the task of moving patients. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based HStar Technologies’ Robotics Nursing Assistant is designed to lift patients.The mobile and omnidirectional device is designed to be flexible with wheels that help it move in any direction, work in confined spaces, and navigate areas where portable lifting systems are limited. It’s also able to sense center of gravity when it’s lifting a patient and automatically adjust, using haptic feedback and stability systems. With an eye to bariatric surgery patients, these robots could be especially helpful. This robot was one of a handful of winners in the challenge.
Delivering materials Pittsburgh-based Aethon developed robots for the mundane task of delivering materials to the pharmacy, laboratory, and blood bank among other areas. Its TUG autonomous delivery robot uses a real-time tracking system powered by a support center in the cloud. It’s used in 140 hospitals in four countries.construct a laser map of the hospital floor plan to create pathways and endpoints, and set up “rules of the road” to guide TUG in its travels. Each TUG is programmed with a map of the hospital floor plan to create pathways and endpoints. It uses a scanning laser and 27 infrared and ultrasonic sensors to detect and model the environment in real time to maintain an accurate position and to avoid obstacles. It can communicate with the hospital’s wireless system to open elevators. Aethon support can use the robot’s wireless network to control the robot remotely. It was also identified as a Game Changer winner.
Hair transplants Yes, a robot for hair transplants. San Jose, California-based Restoration Robotics uses precision robotics to harvest and implant hair. Its ARTAS Robotic System got clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011 as a tool for physicians to perform the delicate art of hair surgery. Actually, the technology is pretty cool. It’s designed to avoid scarring It uses digital imaging to map out hair “groupings” across the scalp. Stereo-vision sensors detect hair follicles, calculate angles, orientation and location and pick a specific pattern for harvesting. Its camera system is partially guided by a patient’s motion, rather than relying on manual instruction.
The International Federation of Robotics valued professional service robot market sales at more than $3.4 billion in 2013 with medical service robots accounting for about 8 percent of the market. On the other hand, sales in this segment grew 20 percent from 2011 to 2012, with robot assisted surgery devices accounting for the biggest portion. At $1.5 million a pop, these robots also carry a substantial price tag.