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.
With the face of a friendly teddy bear and the arm-power of a forklift, RIBA -- Robot for Interactive Body Assistance -- is designed to lift people who are too weak or ill to sit, walk, or stand by themselves. The robot, which is expected to begin testing in 2011, can lift people of up to 135 pounds, although inventor Toshiharu Mukai and the development team intend to increase the weight limit when the device is tested at Japanese nursing homes. There are 454 sensors built into RIBA's arms, along with a motor for lifting people, and a soft urethane foam skin for comfort. The robot responds to commands, and is trained to recognize both faces and voices, according to its developers. Prospective markets could include nursing homes, long- and short-term care facilities, and hospitals, especially when the robot is able to lift heavier weights.