Robots and Healthcare

‘’I’ll be back’’ the Terminator says as he goes to get your lab results. Ok, so we’re not quite there with robotics in the health sector, but there have been some marvellous advancements over the years. From the da Vinci Surgical System that assists surgeons with complex procedures to drones that are battling malaria, robots are increasingly proving their worth and potential. Let’s take a look at 4 such examples, the benefits and the future of this industry.

    1.   Grin and Robear it

Robear is a teddy-meets-transformer creation, developed by the RIKEN-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research in Nagoya, and based on Riken’s Robot for Interactive Body Assistance (RIBA). Robear is capable of lifting patients in and out of bed, placing them in wheelchairs, aiding their stance and turning them to prevent bed sores, among other facets. Due to low gear ratio actuators, Robear’s joints are fast and responsive, yet torque sensors allow for soft movements ensuring patient safety. Robear alleviates the strenuous tasks of carers and nurses while still helping patients recover comfortably.


   2.   Seal of Approval

Certainly, a cuter companion than Robear is PARO, a robotic seal who loves to be stroked and cuddled. PARO responds as if he is alive, twitching his head and legs and imitating the sounds of a real baby seal. In medical trials, PARO has given patients similar effects to animal therapy, helping along psychological, physiological and social lines. For example, when paired with Dementia patients who can become agitated and violent, PARO has helped such patients settle down and feel good. This removes the need for restraint or sedation. He’s even got Guinness World Record status as, ‘World’s Most Therapeutic Robot’.

PARO was developed by AIST and is available from Intelligent System Co., Ltd.


   3.   Walk This Way

Toyota are currently testing two robotic designs: Walk Training Assist and Balance Training Assist. Both are rehabilitation-based robots, enabling patients to relearn basic motor skills which have been lost due to injury. Features of both include:

  • Walk Training Assist: Aiding limb movement through leg swing, knee straightening and body-weight support. It can help patients to stand, to view themselves walking to help relearning and to help correct positioning through the feet monitor.
  • Balance Training Assist: A gaming interface to make regaining control more enjoyable. Games include tennis to improve back and forth movement, skiing for leg weight shifting and the rodeo for centre-of-gravity control. Research has found this robot helps older adults regain muscle strength and balance better than more conventional exercise.

   4.   Next Level Clean

The Xenex Robot uses UV disinfection to destroy hospital acquired infections (HAIs) such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and C. diff (Clostridium difficile) that 1 in 9 patients will die of. That figure is higher than the number dying annually from AIDS, car accidents and breast cancer combined so Xenex is a much-needed robot. He’s already proven effective – the Westchester Medical Center reported a 70% reduction in Intensive Care Unit C. diff by using the Xenex robot and the Anderson Cancer Center found Xenex removed all VRE from the environment – a bacteria difficult to get rid of. For more results, click here.


What next?

There are so many exciting developments in the works. For example, Dr Thusha Rajendran is creating a robot to aid adults with autism read others faces to help them understand emotion, and WinterLight Labs are developing a robot that can detect Alzheimer’s by looking at speech patterns and use of language and diagnosing quickly. Though it’s unlikely robots will ever replace doctors and nurses (e.g. issues with wrong diagnoses come to mind), their assistance is paramount in healthcare improvements.

I can’t wait to see what the future brings.