12 Advances In Medical Robotics
January 29, 2011 06:00 AM Robots play a critical -- and growing -- role in modern medicine, from training the next generation of doctors, dentists, and nurses, to comforting and protecting elderly patients in the early stages of dementia. Using robots, medical professionals can make smaller incisions for shorter surgeries, reducing hospital stays and improving patients' prognoses and saving costs. As robots become even smaller and developers continue to further integrate the devices with artificial intelligence, the medical community will continuously expand the ways in which it uses this technology to save patients, improve quality of life and prevent health problems. At the other end of the spectrum, medical schools are turning to robots that mimic live patients' feelings of pain or discomfort to help the next wave of doctors and dentists prepare to treat real people. Of course, dummies and cadavers are not new to medical students, but by giving students access to sensitive patients, healthcare educators hope to hone the bedside manners of soon-to-be doctors and dentists.
Dr. Linda van den Bedem created Sofie -- the simpler moniker for Surgeon's Operating Force-feedback Interface Eindhoven -- as part of her Ph.D. thesis at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. The robot incorporates force feedback, allowing surgeons to feel the pressure they apply when making a suture or pushing aside a bit of tissue. Sofie consists of a master/slave robotics setup, as well as joysticks and a surgeon's control panel. The small slave is not on the floor, but mounted on the operating table. Van den Bedem built the robot with assistance from Eindhoven University's technical department, which patented the process. Although Van den Bedem expects she is about five years away from developing a commercially available system, she expects Sofie to be attractively priced and cost much less than currently available technology that does not include the tactile capability.