Vision-Based Autonomous Robots: Giving Eyes to Medical Automation with Innovative Imaging Systems

Robotics is one of the critical pillars of automation, and by combining it with an artificial-intelligence (AI) vision-based system, it can achieve a higher level of autonomy. The implementation of robotic automation in the health-care field helps to reduce medical errors and improve diagnostic capabilities.

Robotics is one of the critical pillars of automation, and by combining it with an artificial-intelligence (AI) vision-based system, it can achieve a higher level of autonomy. The implementation of robotic automation in the health-care field helps to reduce medical errors and improve diagnostic capabilities.

The health care industry is witnessing a rise in the use of medical robots, as they help professionals give their best performance and make them take more comprehensive care of their patients. With the advancement of AI, autonomous medical robots are being further researched and might soon be a regular member of any medical staff. Robotics offers precise movements of medical tools, assisting surgeons in working with utmost accuracy, and unlike humans, robots don’t experience fatigue.

Understanding robotics used in the medical industry

Each domain in the medical field has a domain-specific robot designed for it, such as surgical robots, urological robots, and spine robots, to name a few. These robots are flexible and can be programmed to perform a wide range of tasks. Altogether, the medical industry consists of the following types of robots:

Surgical robots

Surgeries, especially those involving vital organs like the brain, heart, liver, and lungs, require very careful use of sharp tools. Surgical robots are thus designed to perform minimally invasive surgery, as they enable precise manipulation of surgical instruments beyond human ability in a small operation space. Even a single error in such cases cannot be tolerated; therefore, robots designed for it should be thoroughly tested. A popular one is the Da Vinci System, a general surgical robot focused on a myriad of urological, bariatric, and gynecological surgical procedures.

Exoskeletons

The next step after surgery is recovery, which can also be boosted with the help of robots that act as an external set of bones and muscles. These robots are transforming the healing processes, which require intense physical therapy and help to train the body to move normally again. Exoskeletons help the patients physically and boost their confidence, which leads to a quicker healing process.

Sanitation robots

In health-care places like hospitals, sanitation and cleanliness are of the utmost importance. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries took advantage of existing technologies like robotics and AI to help prevent the spread of viruses. Ultraviolet-disinfection–based sanitation robots were deployed in a lot of quarantine facilities, as they can be easily automated with visual sensors. As a result, the sanitation-robot market is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the field of robotics.

How visual sensors help robots to see the world

Most of the existing medical robots are either controlled manually or just assist the surgeons in performing the task. These robots act like blind machines who follow the program fed into them and are unaware of their surroundings. Now with the arrival of Industry 4.0, robotic vision is seeing its way into most robot-based systems and are introducing new levels of precision and accuracy in smart automated processes.

There are several medical imaging systems available, such as nuclear imaging, gamma imaging, beta imaging, and fluorescence imaging, that are mainly used for diagnostics. Out of these, the field of molecular imaging is playing a major role in giving eyes to the robots. In simple words, molecular imaging is defined as “the ability to visualize and quantitatively measure the function of biological and cellular processes in a living organism.” Currently, molecular imaging is done with the help of techniques like SPECT and PET. Such techniques are the steppingstones for robotic surgeries to initially perform autonomous scans. These scan images are fed into an AI-based system to perform autonomous segmentation of organs at risk. The molecular imaging results can be combined with CT or MR scans to further improve the AI results. The final output is used for carrying out image-guided surgeries, largely with the help of robotics.

In a recent study, a group of surgeons performed a completely autonomous soft-tissue surgery using a Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR). The robot was able to carry out a procedure called intestinal anastomosis, in which a piece of intestine that’s been cut through is stitched back together. The STAR is equipped with a near-infrared-fluorescent–based 3D vision system, force sensors, and actuated surgical tools. Using this sensor data, the robot follows its own plan and dynamically changes its course as the tissues move.

The study claims that the outcomes of the automated procedures were superior to the surgery performed by expert surgeons. This robotic surgery breakthrough proves that autonomous medical robots are no longer a distant dream and might soon become common for surgeries.

Touchless monitoring of vital signs using 4D radar imaging

For any medical-related issues, carrying out a diagnosis is always the first step that decides the prescription to be given to the patient. Vital signs like heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature are taken note of and are analyzed for possible symptoms. Vayyar, an Israel-based company, has developed a 4D radar imaging sensor that can perform touchless scanning of these vital signs. By combining the sensor data with AI, the system can detect the early stages of Covid-19 symptoms. Such a system can be employed on a robot to perform quick touchless monitoring of patients and analyze the data on the edge.

The future of autonomous medical robots

The exponential growth of AI is driving precision-surgery technologies to the levels of full autonomy. Currently, a few of the surgeries, such as orthopedic knee replacements, Lasik eye surgery, and hair transplants, already incorporate smart machines. These machines perform their tasks autonomously and are being widely used. The main reason for it being so successful is the fixed nature of the targets, as the head and bones can be fixed at a particular position, whereas surgeries involve soft tissues, which are difficult to manipulate. This provides a huge scope of research and development of technologies to track the constantly moving tissues and handle them.

Finally, if we look at the broader picture, complete medical autonomy is still far away from being commercialized. The current technologies still require some help from humans and are not developed to the point of being extremely safe. Maybe we might need to wait a few more years to get a fully automated medical robot.


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