Healthcare Robotics: Patently Incredible Inventions - InformationWeek
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Healthcare Robotics: Patently Incredible Inventions

Medical robots will change the operating room much like PCs reshaped the office. Get an advance look from these cutting-edge robotic technology patents and patent applications.




According to the Japan Robotic Association, medical care will be one of the largest markets for robots in 2025. The coming technologies can have disruptive influences in operating rooms as much as personal computers had in offices decades ago. From steerable micro-robots traveling in our veins to precision robots guiding surgeons in the operating room, the possibilities start to force the limits of our imagination. What is the current state of the art in medical robots and how can they help us? This slideshow, based on an analysis by Innovation Rex, explores cutting-edge robotic technology patents and patent applications in the medical field.

The drawings are taken directly from the patent applications, with a bit of color added.

On the pages that follow, you will find:

-- A robotic nurse with a soft touch.

-- A robotic companion for the elderly and infirm.

-- A micro-robot that you swallow like a pill so it can take pictures on its way through your digestive and intestinal tracts.

-- An even tinier robot designed to navigate through blood vessels using a bacterial "motor."

-- Another designed to get inside your head and explore your brain.

-- An operating room robot that works cooperatively with the surgeon, rather than trying to replace him.

-- A neurosurgery robot mounted directly on the skull.

Take a look at the following pages to find out what innovators have in store for the healthcare robotics field.


The use of micro-robots for delivering drugs into specific areas of the body offers the possibility of targeting the regions with cancerous cells only, instead of spreading the drug all over the body. A serious restriction for reaching narrow vessels of the body is the size of the motor of micro-robot, which can be up to several millimeters.

The proposed solution by the researchers at Chonnam National University in South Korea in this patent application (US Patent App No: US 20110184388) is the use of bacteria as motors. The micro-robot is made of two parts:

1. The bacteria used as a motor.

2. A microstructure carrying the drug-injecting mechanism.

The bacteria move the micro-robot to the cancerous region, after which the microstructure can treat the disease by spraying the drug.

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In therapies of various cerebrospinal diseases, invasive needles are used to deliver drugs or do minor surgical operations. An alternative would be to use micro-robots capable of minimally invasive interventions by traveling inside the body of the patient.

In this patent application (US Patent App No: US 20130060130 A1 ), researchers from Chonnam National University in Korea propose injecting a micro-robot between the second and third vertebra. The injected micro-robot is then moved to the target diseased region. The movement of the micro-robot is followed through X-ray imaging during the operation. Once in the target region, the micro-robot delivers the drug for treating the disease.

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In capsule endoscopy, a capsule containing a small camera is swallowed by the patient. The capsule then travels to the small intestine and starts taking pictures. The images are then transmitted by radio waves to a receiver. The capsule endoscopy is especially useful for the observation of the small intestine, where other techniques such as colonoscopy are difficult to apply.

In this particular invention provided by Olympus (US Patent No: US 7511733), the front end of the capsule is cut diagonally to provide a large view angle for the camera lens. Spiral projections on the body of the pill help the capsule move forward through the peristaltic motion of the intestine.

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In minimally invasive orthopedic operations, a surgeon's ability to view and access a surgery site is reduced because of the small incision size. This increase in complexity can have a negative effect on the accuracy of the operation. One solution would be the use of autonomous robots for enhancing the precision of the operation. But this can mean leaving too much control of the operation to a robot.

An ideal compromise would be cooperation between the surgeon and the robot. In this invention by Mako Surgical (US Patent No: US 8010180 B2), the robot provides tactile guidance to the surgeon during orthopedic procedures, hence enhancing the surgeon's skill in a cooperative manner.

The robot is directly controlled by the surgeon during the operation. It can apply an increasing degree of resistance to resist movement as the cutting tool approaches a boundary of the operation region. In this way, the robot would guide the surgeon in preparing the bone by maintaining the cutting tool within a region of constraint.

RECOMMENDED READING:

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Current surgery robots can be very large for an operating room and very expensive for hospital budgets. Designing small surgery robots conceived for specific purposes would solve the problems of cost and size.

An invention in this direction is proposed by Mazor Robotics in patent application (US Patent App: US 20090177081 A1).

The advantages of such a robot are:

-- It is inexpensive.

-- It does not take as much space as conventional medical robots in the operating room.

-- It is safe, as its power and motion range are restricted.

-- It is mounted directly on the patient bone, and thus does not require tracking.

On the image, the miniature robot (10) has a parallel structure with six degrees of freedom. It is fitted with a mechanical guide for needle, probe or catheter insertion (20).

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The world's population is aging, and very fast. By 2030, people over age 60 will comprise 25% of the U.S. population (Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Aging Report, 2005). The number of elderly people that depend on the working-age population will also increase substantially. For social and human reasons, the development of new technologies to ease the task of caring for elderly people acquires a strategic importance.

iRobot (famous for vacuum-cleaning robots) offers a solution in the guise of a companion robot (US Patent No: US 7957837 B2). The robot has a small body, with a display "face" for interacting with humans. It can recognize and interact with people, as well as help them with medication dispensing and walking.

On the figure, the head (16) of the robot carries the following elements:

Face: An interactive liquid crystal display which can show emotions.

Eyes: Cameras (28) (charge-coupled device) to provide stereoscopic vision.

Ears: Microphone (32) to collect audio data or receive commands.

RECOMMENDED READING:

10 Medical Robots That Could Change Healthcare

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How Patient Generated Data Changes Healthcare

Fitbit Gadget Could Improve Hospital Care

Smartwatches Could Outshine Wearable Fitness Gadgets

Microsoft Kinect Technology Helps Surgeons Manipulate Images

NASA Curiosity Rover's Year On Mars: 5 Breakthroughs

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The aging population in developing countries may need robot assistance to care for patients. Unlike the industrial robots, these nursing robots will interact with humans so their movements should be very delicate.

If a robot picks up a patient, he or she could be bruised in areas of strong force. The movements of the robotic arms must not cause a person any pain or discomfort, and they must give a sense of comfort and security.

In this patent (US Patent No: US 6430475) by the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan, the main invention concerns the contact sensors capable of sensing pressure distribution through a pressure-sensitive sheet. This information is then used to control the robot's force and make it more delicately tuned to the patient's need.

RECOMMENDED READING:

10 Medical Robots That Could Change Healthcare

Remote Patient Monitoring: 9 Promising Technologies

Roomba Maker Sets Sights On Telemedicine

How Patient Generated Data Changes Healthcare

Fitbit Gadget Could Improve Hospital Care

Smartwatches Could Outshine Wearable Fitness Gadgets

Microsoft Kinect Technology Helps Surgeons Manipulate Images

NASA Curiosity Rover's Year On Mars: 5 Breakthroughs

DARPA Robot Challenge: Disaster Recovery

Robotics Rumble: Teens Fight For Tech Glory

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shareiT
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shareiT,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/30/2013 | 4:26:00 AM
Inventions
Do you appreciate innovations that can save you cash, time and even your life? If so, here
are a few forthcoming instances of future technology that will please your inner futurist.
For more information, click here.
Sasha0627
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Sasha0627,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/20/2013 | 5:14:06 AM
re: Healthcare Robotics: Patently Incredible Inventions
Wow great technology. Happy to be in this generation.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/13/2013 | 7:18:16 PM
re: Healthcare Robotics: Patently Incredible Inventions
A head-mounted robot operating on me? That is a technology leap of faith.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
9/13/2013 | 2:02:04 PM
re: Healthcare Robotics: Patently Incredible Inventions
Which of these do you think has the most potential?
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