By Gaea Marelle Miranda, M.Sc.May 21 2019
The field of robotics has been making waves through the scientific community ever since the first industrial robot, Unimate, was created in 1954 by George Devol. Unimate was a robotic arm that was deployed in an automotive assembly line and was the first mass-produced robotic arm to be used in factory automation. While George Devol was the inventor and the man who turned the vision to reality, the one who had the vision in the first place was Joseph Engelberger, who is known as the Father of Robotics. Being inspired by the works of science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, Engelberger also ascribed to the Three Laws of Robotics, which was similar to the medical field’s Hippocratic Oath, which puts the lives of humans first above all.
Robots and Their Application
Decades ago, when the robots where first introduced by researchers, a lot of people were afraid of how these machines would replace us. Some people, especially those in the film industry, even imagined how it would be if the robots became sentient and revolted against the human population. However, the last few years have proven that indeed people and robots can co-exist harmoniously, with robots being valuable assistants that are helping making our lives easier and better. Robots have since seen applications in the fields of agriculture, architecture, electronics manufacturing, food preparation, even law enforcement and medical science. Over the years, robots and artificial intelligence have increasingly been incorporated into the field of healthcare.
ROBODOC—A Surgical Robot
ROBODOC, a surgical robot system involved in total hip replacement surgery, is the first robot to have been involved in healthcare back in 1994. From then on, robots have been used in various ways of administering treatment to patients in hospitals around the world, mostly in intricate procedures that require precision that robotic hands are able to deliver consistently and accurately. The daVinci surgical system is one such example of robots assisting doctors in the operating room. The daVinci system was used in performing a laparoscopic cholecystectomy or removal of the gallbladder, which was less intrusive than the traditional procedure that was in place.
Telepresence is also something that robots are helping doctors achieve, allowing surgeons to do their procedures from miles away. The first surgical system to enable this is the Zeus surgical system from 2001. The Zeus surgical system was used in the first transatlantic laparoscopic cholecystectomy which was performed by a surgeon in New York in the United States on a patient who was far away, in Strasbourg, France, actually. Telepresence is not only applicable in surgeries but also in general healthcare such as allowing patients to communicate with their doctors who are far away via a robotic interface.
Robots in Healthcare
Robots are also being utilized in rehabilitative healthcare, either in facilitating rehabilitation or through wearable technology or exoskeletons that the patients can wear to assist them in their rehabilitation. While wearable robots were first developed for military purposes, it has also been applied to healthcare as a way for older people and people with physical disabilities to regain movement in different parts of their bodies. An example of a successful application of wearable robots is with a British woman named Claire Lomas who completed a marathon while wearing the ReWalk robotic suit due to being involved in a riding accident that rendered her paraplegic. This is one of many success stories of people being able to come back to their normal, active lives with the assistance of robots.
Early detection of diseases is also an important aspect in healthcare as it allows medical professionals to administer a cure to a patient that needs it before their condition worsens. Oxford Brain Diagnostics has been working on developing the technology that will allow us to detect dementia early on, even before the patient shows any signs or symptoms. MobileODT, on the other hand, has come up with the EVA System, which is designed as a screening machine to be used in detecting cervical cancer and is also supposed to provide a result to the patient in a much faster manner.
While the public’s fear that these machines will be replacing us in the years to come has not completely abated, it is an undeniable truth that robots are helping make our human lives better as they continue to be developed. At the end of the day, robots will not function without the human touch. While robots are doing a lot of work, the human element of healthcare will not be diminished anytime soon.
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