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.
The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Kimura Clinic and Brain Functions Laboratory in Japan developed Paro, a therapeutic seal robot for individuals suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other cognition disorders. Robot therapy has been implemented at various facilities for the elderly, such as adult day care facilities and nursing homes, in addition to pediatric units in Japan, which like many nations is grappling with an aging population.
In Japan, it is predicted that 26% of the population will be over 65 years of age by 2015, dramatically increasing costs. Private and government agencies are looking at ways in which robotics can delay cognitive problems to improve quality of life, reduce expenses and cut reliance on the social infrastructure by enabling people to live at home longer, with less need for health and social services. One half of one study group saw cognitive improvement, and AIST reports many nursing homes -- which first received Paro in 2003 -- continue to use the seals, which respond with movement and sound to human interaction.