As robots become increasingly autonomous and able to perform complex tasks, the robotics industry is exploring more versatile, human-centered applications. Frost & Sullivan has identified several exciting innovations in this emerging field.
As robots become increasingly autonomous and able to perform complex tasks, the robotics industry is exploring more versatile, human-centered applications. Patient care robots are being designed for specific purposes that improve treatment efficacy and care quality. Exoskeletons may not yet be able to offer the superpowers depicted in the “Iron Man” comic book and film universe, but they are already helping to restore basic powers that some patients once considered unattainable. Frost & Sullivan has identified several exciting innovations in this emerging field.
Daily Care and Transportation Robots
Flexbed is an autonomous hospital bed made by an Australian team from the University of Technology Sydney Center for Health Technologies in collaboration with the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. The joint effort gave the world its first robotic hospital bed frame. Its autonomous driving capabilities include collision avoidance technologies that allow it to maneuver through crowded hospital corridors. It reduces the risk of repetitive strain injuries caused by pushing or pulling a bed or repeatedly lifting patients.
Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) also help hospitals simplify workflows and free up staff for more critical care needs. AGVs can automatically operate lifts, trash dumpsters, and cart washers, and can assist in moving soiled food trays, medical waste, patient meals, linens and trash. Surgical Yujin Robot Co. Ltd. of Seoul, South Korea, is developing a meal transportation system for elder care facilities and hospitals. Guided by mapping and obstacle detection technology, the GoCart, which is about as tall an average person, can be loaded to deliver meals in bulk and return empty trays. Smaller versions can transport medicines and medical samples.
Telepresence and Rehabilitative Robots
Pepper is a human-shaped, day-to-day companion robot by Softbank Robotics of Japan. It uses cameras and sensors to detect human emotions and changes in behavior, and can understand 80% of conversations. Pepper was deployed in two Belgian hospitals to greet people and help with directions. Its applications could extend to patient care and rehabilitation assistance.
RP-Vita is a remote presence robot used for telemedicine. It combines telemedicine technology with autonomous navigation from two companies: iRobot and InTouch Health. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance allows consults in high-acuity clinical environments: off-site doctors, nurses, and pharmacists appear on a monitor to discuss patient care goals. It can be connected to diagnostic devices to monitor patients and collect data. The capability to connect doctors and family members to the patient globally leads to an increase in positive clinical outcomes.
MEDi is a companion humanoid robot that acts as a distraction and a pain coach for children undergoing medical procedures. Equipped with cognitive behavioral skills, MEDi dances, plays games, and talks to young patients to help them anticipate pain through breathing and cognitive exercises. The developer, RxRobots of Calgary, Alberta, says that MEDi-type interventions have helped decreased pain intensity by 50% and resulted in a 10% increase in vaccination rates in one hospital in Canada. Humanoid robots, if implemented and regulated properly, could transform geriatric and pediatric care.
EksoGT is a robotic exoskeleton that helps patients stand and walk using variable assist software for gait therapy. In April 2016, Ekso Bionics of Richmond, Calif., gained FDA approval for use on patients with spinal cord injuries or hemiplegia due to stroke. A physician or physical therapist can use a controller to adjust the exoskeleton to a specific gait or posture. SmartAssist software analyzes data from past sessions to tailor rehabilitation programs as patients progress, offering them the freedom to ultimately balance, stand or walk on their own.
MyoPro is a myoelectric upper limb orthosis, or robotic sleeve, that helps patients with arm weakness or paralysis because of stroke, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, neuromuscular disorders, or brain or spinal cord injuries perform basic tasks. Users gain grasp-and-release power through sensors that detect small and weak muscle signals. The patient does most of the work; the MyoPro amplifies the weak muscle signal. The orthosis was developed by Myomo, a medical robotics company based in Cambridge, Mass.
The HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) is the first robotic medical device to receive CE marking for use in Europe. Japanese company Cyberdyne developed the exoskeleton for patients with lower-extremity paresis. Specifically marketed as the HAL for Medical Use – Lower Limb Model, it reads bioelectric signals transmitted from the brain to muscles and compensates for the lack of muscle power.
Omnicell’s i.v.STATION, a part of Omnicell, Inc., IV Solutions platform, provides automated sterile compounding for a broad array of drug transfers, dilutions and reconstitutions. State-of-the-art robotics and gravimetric controls autonomously mix physician-ordered intravenous solutions inside of its HEPA air filtering, class 5 compounding chamber. In-process bar code verification and labeling help reduce compounding errors and improve solution accuracy when compared to manual mixing. Supported interfaces in HL7, the main computer language accepted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, can be integrated with common electronic health record systems and pharmacy information systems already in place. When used in combination with Omnicell’s hazardous compounding and semi-automated IV workflow products, the entire platform promotes enhanced safety and improved therapy as the suite facilitates compliance and reduces costs. Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center (PVHMC) announced plans to implement these robots in May 2018. The medical center will implement two i.v.STATION non-hazardous compounding robots to help streamline compounding processes. PVHMC’s pharmacy director hopes the streamlined process will allow him to redirect savings to activities that support clinical care.
The Road Ahead
As the field of robotics continues to evolve, autonomous robots will continue to penetrate all aspects of health care, including the operating room. Frost & Sullivan predicts that the daily care, telepresence, exoskeleton and pharma-automation segments of robotics will see high growth rates and acceptance by 2021.
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