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The robodoc is in

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The robodoc is in
FROM MODEST COUNTRY STOREFRONTS TO SWEEPING SKYSCRAPERS; FROM THE FORD MODEL-T TO THE MCLAREN SUPERCAR; FROM STARGAZING TO SPACE TRAVEL; IF HISTORY HAS TAUGHT US ANYTHING, IT’S THAT THE WATERMARK OF THE INDELIBLE HUMAN SPIRIT IS AT THE FOREFRONT OF ADVANCEMENT.

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and the establishment of modern medicine, humankind’s innate curiosity continues to push us forward to new frontiers. Automation has shaped our world, and the Internet has revolutionized the way we receive information.

Now, imagine, if you will, the same kind of mechanized attention to detail used in healthcare, while maintaining the dignified level of humanity that has long been integral to the medical profession. Many companies are now using robots to perform tasks like surgeries or dispensing pharmaceuticals, which remove human-error from the equation and boost efficiency. Innovative bionics and restorative treatments have already begun to take shape in laboratories around the globe. Here’s a glimpse into what’s currently being done, and the companies shaping the future of the healthcare industry.

Ekso Bionics received clearance by the FDA in 2016 for patients (those with strokes or spinal cord injuries up to C7) to use their exoskeleton, EksoGT, to aid in walking.

 

Dr. Terry Chapman, a urologist at the Palmetto Health Richland facility, uses a da Vinci surgical robot.

THERAPEUTIC COMPANION BOTS

PARO, an interactive, robotic baby harp seal, is one of many automated companions on the healthcare market today, and was the brainchild of robotics developer Takanori Shibata of Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). Designed in 1993, it was not shown to the public until 2001. Created as a form of pet therapy for the patients taking care of it, PARO aids patients with bouts of depression, loneliness and anxiety brought on by dementia, and helps elicit a positive emotional response followed by a noticeable sense of calm from its caregiver. PARO has also been known to greatly improve patients’ social skills with hospice staff and one another, while prompting increased levels of enthusiasm.

PARO is fashioned with multiple intuitive microprocessors, miniature motors for movement, heat sensors (including touch-sensory whiskers) and several strategically placed microphones covered by fur. PARO can not only sense the movement of its caregiver, but also PARO listen to its environment. PARO opens and closes its eyes, utilizes facial recognition, studies a person’s touch and behaves accordingly to a patient’s mood, can remember names of people and acknowledge a new name if given one, cuddles with its caregivers and looks for eye-contact with its handlers.

In recent years, Hasbro has created their Joy for All Companion Pets division, providing interactive cats and dogs for seniors that have seen similar positive feedback to that of PARO.

PARO, the therapeutic seal-like companion robot.

 

 

“ In therapy, the GT is useful in both spinal cord injury and stroke patients; the use varies based on the unique needs of the patient.”
–Jeffrey Stoll, Ekso Bionics

 

BRINGING THE DOCTOR TO YOU

Network accessibility is literally changing the face of patient care, while adding a personal touch to doctor visits. InTouch Health is one company that provides a host of Cloud-based telehealth automated devices that connect physicians with patients from virtually anywhere around the world. With access to secure, up-to-the-minute patient data, InTouch’s devices can assist family physicians, emergency surgeons and other medical professionals via a video conference that connects patients with their caregivers. Additionally, telehealth technology not only provides patients with on-site consultations, but gives them the peace of mind of seeing a friendly face in real time.

Similarly, Anybots 2.0 Inc. is taking revolutionary steps to simplify the doctor-patient relationship with their creation of a remote-controlled robot that can alleviate the burden of inefficient in-person house calls. The robot connects physicians to their patients remotely; and with it, caregivers can speak one on one with their patients to gauge a general sense of their wellbeing, examine a patient’s residence for possible safety hazards or schedule a consultation.

An Anybot roams the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show floor. Anybots are operated by laptops, from anywhere in the world, and allow the users to talk to others through headsets.

 

 

PHARMA-DISPENSERS

Let’s be honest; if you’re sick, you’d rather be in the comfort of your own home than waiting in a long line at the pharmacy. The experience is often impersonal at best, and unbearable at worst.

With the introduction of computerized Pharma Dispensers, wait times are a thing of the past. The dispensers erase human-error by processing medical data, labeling and filling a patient’s prescription in a fraction of the time it takes for a human to do it. With these dispensers doing the brunt of the work, it allows the pharmacists the opportunity to answer any questions patrons may have, so they’re able to focus on the viable human touch that is so essential to quality healthcare.

MEDICAL EXOSKELETONS

The developers at the California-based Ekso Bionics have created automated hardware with high performance industrial and healthcare applications. For instance, the EksoGT, a high-tech medical exoskeleton, received FDA clearance in 2016 to be utilized in the rehabilitation of victims of stroke and spinal trauma. Depending on the circumstances of the injury,the GT intuitively responds to the user’s limitations.

Ekso’s director of product development, Jeffrey Stoll, says, “In therapy, the GT is useful in both spinal cord injury and stroke patients; the use varies based on the unique needs of the patient. Stroke patients tend to make use of the unilateral assistance settings (i.e. one leg controlled and the other leg free) more than others due to the fact that strokes cause hemiplegia (paralysis on one side of the body). That said, walking involves the whole body, so physical therapists make use of pretty much every feature on the EksoGT at one time or another to help patients improve different aspects of their walking.”

So, if one patient were to have a spinal cord injury, and another had a stroke, they’d both be able to benefit from the GT’s bilateral adaptive assistance to achieve the same therapeutic goal. The EksoGT provides low-impact therapy, while automatically correcting posture and helping its users walk and do stationary exercise. The GT also has been tested with specified strength applications that have aided nurses in hoisting sick patients. It’s clear that whether it’s therapeutic rehabilitation or industry-grade applications, Ekso is reimagining human strength and mobility for the 21st century and beyond.

“ … We have the only devices currently on the market that are ready to receive that type of signal, interpret it and execute the function.”
–Kim De Roy, Össur

 

ON THE MOVE

Jeffrey Stoll, director of product development, tells us how Ekso created its exoskeletons.

“Augmented human technology in the sense of exoskeletons focuses on connecting human motion with motorized support,” he says. “It poses unique control challenges because the motors have to deliver power in a comfortable, seamless and intuitive way. People don’t really think about movement, they just do it. Therefore, exoskeletons have to get as much information as possible about their user’s intention from the actual body motions. Then, [the exoskeleton] can apply the force needed to fill in where the user has deficits. The last 10 to 20 years have seen tremendous advances in miniaturization of computing and sensors driven by cellphones and other consumer products—both of which are extremely important.”

 

 

ADVANCES IN PROSTHETICS

Founded in Iceland in 1971, Össur, one of the leading pioneers in prosthesis development today, has made strides in employing AI and microprocessors in artificial limbs to reestablish anatomical function in amputees. Some of Össur’s products to contain this intuitive tech are the Power Knee and Proprio Foot models. Additionally, Össur is currently developing a bionic limb that uses a myoelectric sensor to read muscle activity after being placed within the muscle close to the prosthesis.

Össur’s global VP of marketing and education Kim De Roy says, “The way it works, when we think about an action, our brain sends a signal. But when that action is a continuum, it’s done in our subconscious. We can trigger subconsciously or consciously. Let’s say that when we start to walk upstairs, we give a conscious trigger to our legs that we need to lift our leg onto the stairs and then we can get into the psychic-rhythmic activity. The way that the [bionic limb] works is the implant reads the muscle signal milliseconds after the brain has thought about it … That signal is interpreted by the artifi cial intelligence of the device, which is quite exceptional to Össur because we have the only devices currently on the market that are ready to receive that type of signal, interpret it and execute the function.”

 

HELPING HANDS (AND FEET)

Certifi ed prosthetist and global VP of marketing and education Kim De Roy discuss how Össur’s prosthetics work.

Smarter by the Day: “Many [prosthetics] are supported with a device that’s getting smarter and smarter,” she says. “Say you would get a [prosthetic] knee that is not just a mechanical device, but a microprocessor-controlled device that is not only exhibiting a certain function, it’s sensing, at all times, the real-time environment of the patient.”

Assessing Risks: “[The enhanced prosthesis is] trying to understand what potential danger a patient might get into. If they trip or are risking a fall, the device will respond, and through stumble- recovery, makes sure they don’t fall because of the trip. There is computerized on board sensing [on the prosthesis] that keeps the patient safe in that fi x, which gives the patient confidence, a subjective, a subconscious feeling of safety and stability that they are looking for. One of the biggest concerns of an amputee is typically falling and not having control over the prosthesis. Having a type of device that senses for them, and reacts to a certain situation, while keeping the patient safe is very beneficial to that user.”

Besides prosthesis technology, Össur specializes in products that minimize infl ammation and discomfort from osteoarthritis and other bone-related injuries. Even after nearly 50 years, Össur continues live by its motto, “Life Without Limitations,” to aid those with limited mobility. One of many companies using robotics to help improve patients’ quality of life, we can only expect many more exciting things in the healthcare industry in the future.

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