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MEDICA 2021: Advances in Medical Robotics

MEDICA 2021: Advances in Medical Robotics
Rob Surgical's Bitrack system. (Credit: Rob Surgical)

Medical robotics is about combining machine intelligence and precision with human intelligence, decision-making and skills, according to healthcare professionals and innovators at MEDICA 2021.

This year’s world forum for medicine looked at advances in medical robotics, from strides forward in robotic-assisted surgery to exoskeletons designed to help the ill and the injured move again. Dr. Ing Bartlomiej Stanczyk, of Poland and Germany-based Accrea Engineering, discussed the ARIA robot arm. He said:

“We do not have enough doctors for all of the people on the planet—there are more of us, we are getting older and we want better healthcare, so I want to empower our doctors with robots.”

Accrea Engineering's ARIA robot arm. (Credit: Accrea Engineering)
Accrea Engineering’s ARIA robot arm. (Credit: Accrea Engineering)

Accrea Engineering started by developing a lightweight, carbon-fiber assistive arm for wheelchair users and has now developed the RoPuc for use in surgery. Dr. Ing Bartlomiej Stanczyk explained:

“Our arm was devised to work in human environments, with sensors and built-in safety features; it can be used as an assistant for minimally invasive surgery by holding cameras, retractors and tools etc. It can also be used for robotic needle guidance to carry out precise biopsies. Free-hand biopsies can result in low accuracy, complications, high radiation exposure and surgeon fatigue. This system removes these problems and brings advantages for patients, such as no complications. It is also cost-effective if it results in a reduction in surgeon fatigue.”

Hybrid Human-Robotic Surgery

Jaume Amat, CEO of the Spanish company Rob Surgical, introduced its Bitrack system, designed to overcome the limitations of current robotic systems and ideal for hybrid human-robotic surgery in fields including urology, colon and rectal and gynecology. He observed:

“Twenty years after the first robotic procedure only around two per cent of total targeted surgical procedures are currently performed with robots. We have 6,000 surgical robots installed around the world, yet each performs less than one surgery per day. With current systems, the surgical procedures are too expensive as high upfront costs create entry barriers for small and medium hospitals. Also, we have really rigid current platforms that focus too much on the robot rather than the needs of the patient and surgeons. This is something we would like to change.”

MEDICA 2021 is taking place on November 15-18 in Dusseldorf, Germany. (Credit: Messe Dusseldorf)
MEDICA 2021 is taking place on November 15-18 in Dusseldorf, Germany. (Credit: Messe Dusseldorf)

The Bitrack System is an open platform with four arms. The robot can be placed in any position around the patient, enabling four-quadrant anatomical access and complete patient accessibility. Open source ports allow both robotic and traditional laparoscopic instruments to operate simultaneously. Jaume Amat explained:

“The idea is to combine manual and robotic instruments. The high precision is provided by the robotic system, but it does not necessarily do all the surgery. This could reduce costs for hospitals—we feel very confident it could be the future of surgery.”

A Self-Balanced Exoskeleton

Chief Business and Clinical Officer, Jean-Louis Constanza, from Paris-based Wandercraft, introduced its Atalante, a hands-free exoskeleton for gait rehabilitation. He said:

“This is the first exoskeleton in the world that can walk self-balanced—it generates its own balance and is self-stabilized. It is very simple. It can be used by a paraplegic person and it can walk by itself. You can put it on, stand up and do everything your physiotherapist or medical team in a rehabilitation hospital thinks necessary to help you relearn how to walk. You can crouch, grab something from the ground and walk up and down stairs.”

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Aimed at those with complete or partial paraplegia or hemiplegia, it is intuitive to use and offers an intensity of action that helps patients relearn movement much more quickly. He added:

“We are currently working on a second version that is much slimmer, lighter, cheaper and more agile. It will be able to help people currently in a wheelchair to stand up and carry out their whole daily life at home and at work.”

Independent Living 

Dr. Luca Randazzo, PhD in Robotics, of Swiss company Emovo, discussed the Emovo Grasp, a portable, connected hand exoskeleton currently in development. He said:

“Our mission is to create devices that can give humans back the ability to live independently. We are trying to regain the grasp function for the 40 million users who suffer from a stroke and live with hand impairments. Our objective is to achieve market entry with this by next year—in the future we will add more control modalities. We see potential for merging our hardware device with data to show the patient where they are in their rehabilitation process and so the clinicians can follow up remotely on the patient’s progress.”

The Emovo grasp. (Credit: Emovo)
The Emovo grasp. (Credit: Emovo)

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