The field of robotics has seen some truly innovative products across a range of sectors, from virtual assistants such as Alexa, to driverless cars. Of these, there is no industry more exciting than robotics in the health sector.
The use of robotics in the world of healthcare is a trend that is gaining significant momentum. From the first robotic surgical assistant nearly two decades ago, the use of robotics in healthcare has advanced rapidly. In 2000, the da Vinci Surgical System was the first robotic device approved by the FDA to perform surgical procedures and since then the system has conducted more than 20,000 surgeries.
Furthermore, the field of prosthetics has advanced so much in the past few years that it is no longer a question of ‘can we make a suitable replacement for a limb’ but rather, ‘can we make something even better than the real thing.’
At the MIT Bio-mechatronics lab, researchers have created gyroscopic robotic limbs that are capable of tracking their own position in three-dimensional space and adjusting their joints upwards of 750 times per second.
Additionally, they have developed bionic skins and neural implant systems that interface with the nervous system allowing the user to receive tactile feedback from the prosthetic and volitionally control it as you would with a normal limb.
So why don’t we hear about these advancements in robotics every day? Why aren’t people demanding small pilots that will undoubtedly extend and enhance life?
One possibility is that extremely high costs are creating a significant market barrier. However, as the years pass, the industry is winning consumers interest as well as revenue, owing to the high capabilities and potential that the robots possess.
Another more probable cause is trust.
Would you trust a machine to perform a procedure autonomously? A Pew Research Center report found 72% of Americans said they were at least somewhat worried about a world where machines perform many of the tasks traditionally carried out by humans. In 2018, Uber pulled its self-driving cars off the road when one of them hit and killed a pedestrian. Yet autonomous vehicle collisions remain incredibly low, and typically occur when the vehicle is being driven manually with 90% of crashes being due to human error. This highlighted the extent to which we as a society are unwilling to tolerate mistakes made by machines. However, as society continues to strive to find ways of reducing the constraints of space and time, the appeal of less invasive procedures coupled with the geo-redundancy robotic procedures can offer, has meant rapid expansion in robotics, and we are now starting to see real world results. For example, the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) in a recent set of tests made more precise incisions, with less tissue damage, compared with human surgeons showcasing the future of the industry.
Compounded through the expected growth of the Global Medical Robotics Market of 20.8% during the forecasted period of 2017-2023, by 2024 it is estimated that industry revenue will be around $99,176 million; 44,206 million more than its 2017 estimated value.
In other words, this is an industry that is only going to grow, and technology that previously was reserved for Hollywood Science fiction is now innovation which occurs today.
Callum, Consultant, Leyton UK