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10 Medical Advances Thanks to Robotics

We all dread those doctors’ visits, especially as we get older. The worry which accompanies the trip to the local quack only increases with age, as does our risk of developing a severe disease or disability. However, we may be in luck due to the advancement in medical technology currently being made by scientists around the world; in the not too distant future our children may not have to worry about the same diseases, ailments or physical disabilities that we worry about today.


Why not? The answer, simply put, is Robots.

 

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As Apple’s introduces their iPhone 4s with its new Siri voice assistant, which sounds frighteningly like a female version of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, it signals yet another advancement in the use and dependency of technology in our day-to-day life. Fans of sci-fi thrillers such as The Matrix, Terminator or Battlestar Galatica will now most certainly be preparing themselves for the A.I. apocalypse. But little do they, or the rest of the population, know that the machines have already been quietly taking over for some time, especially in the field of medical care.


Below we’ll take a look at the top 10 modern machines that are changing the medical industry (and preparing themselves to crush their human masters).

Hybrid Assistive Limb 5

The Hybrid Assistive Limb 5, or HAL 5 (this will really have sci-fi fans going) is an artificially powered ecoskeleton that helps double the amount of weight someone can carry unaided. The device was developed, like much of the other machines on this list, by researchers in Japan.


While this device has a long list of tasks that will greatly impact fields across all professions, it is being looked at in hospitals and in medical care for patients who are suffering from illness that make them weak and unable to perform daily tasks. It is also being used for workers in facilites to help lift items (or humans) that are overweight.


This device is currently on the market, but the thing that will most certainly revolutionize modern medicine which is still in development is cognitive responses, in the hopes that one day wheelchair-bound individuals may be able to “walk”.


Call us crazy, but we’re definitely looking forward to the day when we too can have our very own Luke Skywalker hand from Return of the Jedi.

Da Vinci Si HD Surgical System

The accolades for Da Vinci are numerous, from painter to inventor, to possible head of a secret society; Da Vinci would not have a problem lending his name to this robotic system which performs minimally invasive surgeries. The machine looks like a large and futuristic sewing machine, which it basically is.


Da Vinci gives superior visualization, enhanced dexterity, greater precision and ergonomic comfort to surgeons for a great range of surgeries, even those as complex as open-heart surgery. The system makes only small incisions of about 1 or 2 centimeters where needed, which can reduce hospital stays by half, reducing costs by about one-third and will mean less pain and a speedier recovery.


CyberKnife

The CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System is quite the opposite of its name. The CyberKnife is a non-invasive alternative to surgery for the treatment of both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors anywhere in the body. Developed by Accuray, CyberKnife uses continual image guidance technology and computer controlled robotic mobility to automatically track, detect, and attack tumors. The CyberKnife system precisely delivers high-dose radiation, reducing damage to surrounding healthy tissue and eliminating the need for invasive head or body stabilization frames. As a result, recovery rates are shorter and costs are lowered. Typically, patients require five or fewer visits. The device is relatively small and can therefore be used at smaller medical facilities.


This may be a great idea, until the CyberKnife develops full sentience and goes on the attack spree which will most definitely follow.

SOFI

While 20 years ago many thought that laser precision surgery would be the thing of the future, it is actually robot-assisted surgery that doctors say is going to make things much easier. For starters, aside from being far more precise it’s also steadier, less invasive and it could even be a lot less stressful for the surgeon who doesn’t even have to be in the same room. This is why SOFI (Surgeon’s Operating Force-feedback Interface) has taken this type of surgery to a more sophisticated level by adding haptic feedback that is received by the surgeon performing an operation form a remote location. The feedback is a critical part in the surgeons work and this will enable the surgeon to gauge the amount of pressure being applied to the tissues etc.

It will still be several years before SOFI makes its way into the operating tables but “she” will be one hell of a surgeon once there.

Nursebot

Yes, this is exactly as the name sounds. Nurses (the people) have seen a decline in their numbers in recent years, which has led to shortage in these much needed medical professionals. One of the least sought after, but most important roles in nursing is for the elderly. To help address the situation, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Michigan, and Carnegie Mellon University have been working on mobile robots that are specifically designed to help elderly people cope with day-to-day activities. This allows them to live at home and will help to reduce costs of nursing homes and rehab centers. The nurses can do things like temperature with laser beams and thermal camera imaging (which means no more rectal temperature-taking treatment for grandma). Some models have soft fingertips nimble enough to delicately grip a drinking straw and arms with the strength to lift an adult out of bed. The Nursebot can also respond to commands to do things like fetch medication or refreshments. Nursebot even comes equipped with telepresence capabilities, allowing live nurses or doctors to monitor medical conditions.

RIBA

Taking one look at this photo you will probably have no problem guessing where RIBA was invented. RIBA, the Robot for Interactive Body Assistance, was created in Japan and designed to lift people who are too weak or ill to sit, walk, or stand by themselves. While similar to the Nursebot, RIBA is designed entirely to carry individuals. The robot can, at the moment, lift people of up to 135 pounds, although that weight limit is expected to increase. The machine has 454 sensors built into its arms, along with a motor for lifting people, as well as a soft foam skin for comfort. The robot responds to commands, and is trained to recognize both faces and voices, according to its developers. Its prospective markets are nursing homes, long- and short-term care facilities and hospitals, especially when the robot is able to lift heavier weights.

Remote Presence RP-7

This machine looks like the robot from Lost in Space, a talking head with a rectangular box shape. This remote presence robot allows doctors in different geographical locations to teleconference right by a patient’s bedside. Real-time video allows for detailed viewing, examination and digital image capture of human anatomy, bedside monitors and equipment, EKG strips and light box images. The system is currently used in remote areas of northwestern Pennsylvania, western New York, and eastern Ohio, and even provides coverage to 14 prisons in region.


Lokomat

After suffering a stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord damage, or other harm to the central nervous system, there is a good possibility that one may lose the ability to walk or to use other motor functions.

This leads to an intensive rehabilitation regiment, which dispite the patient’s hard work can produces limited results. This is why researchers in Switzerland designed Lokomat, which combines medical and engineering approaches to help patients regain mobility faster, with less pain. The Lokomat uses a robot to automate treadmill training, giving patients longer and more frequent sessions and resulting in a faster and improved return to mobility. The robot intelligently adapts its behavior to the patient’s individual capabilities.


The walking with Lokomat is said to improve pelvis and hip actuation as the walking is more natural, and the virtual training environments can increase patients’ motivation and engagement.

IntelliFill I.V.Pharmacy

The IntelliFill i.v. is designed to automate hospital pharmacies’ intravenous drug preparation process. It uses bar code scanning, vision systems, and weight confirmation steps to identify final products to reduce medication errors. The robot-based system promotes long-term hospital cost savings by preparing the final intravenous products in a syringe instead of an IV bag, according to developer Baxa. Unfortunately, the machine doesn’t vend sodas.


Nanotechnolgy

Nanotechnology, or, as it is sometimes called, molecular manufacturing , is a branch of engineering that deals with the design and manufacture of extremely small electronic circuits and mechanical devices built at the molecular level of matter.

One application of nanotechnology in medicine currently being developed involves employing nanoparticles to deliver drugs, heat, light or other substances to specific types of cells (such as cancer cells). Particles are engineered so that they are attracted to diseased cells, which allows direct treatment of those cells. This technique reduces damage to healthy cells in the body and allows for earlier detection of disease. For example, nanoparticles that deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to cancer cells are under development. Tests are in progress for targeted delivery of chemotherapy drugs and their final approval for their use with cancer patients is pending.

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