Advancements in medical robotics are creating an automated healthcare space where machines could one day play a bigger role in healing the sick than doctors. A range of exhibitors at MEDICA 2023 are showcasing the latest innovations.
Robots on the Rise
Medical robots are nothing new. First appearing in the 1980s, they initially provided surgical assistance via relatively simple robotic arms. More recently, however, they have greatly expanded their capabilities, empowered by technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), wireless sensors and powerful data analytics.
Today, robots in the medical field are transforming how surgeries are performed, streamlining supply delivery and disinfection and allowing healthcare providers to enhance the overall patient experience.
The use of robotics and automation also extends to research laboratories, where they are used to automate manual, repetitive and high-volume tasks. This means technicians and scientists can focus their attention on more strategic tasks that make discoveries happen faster.
Robots can also clean and prep patient rooms independently, helping limit person-to-person contact in infectious disease wards—the COVID-19 pandemic for example, saw hospitals and clinics deploy robots for a much wider range of tasks. And robots with AI-enabled medicine identifier software can reduce the time it takes to identify, match and distribute medicine to patients in hospitals.
According to leading market research company Infinium Global Research, the global medical robotics market was valued at USD 8.14 Billion in 2022. This valuation is predicted to reach USD 28.77 Billion by 2030, growing by nearly 15% year-on-year over the forecast period.
The MEDICA 2023 medical technology trade fair, which is taking place in the German city of Düsseldorf from November 13 to 16, showcases a range of companies pushing the boundaries of medical robotics.
KUKA, the German manufacturer of industrial robots and factory automation systems, is presenting applications based on its cutting-edge LBR Med collaborative robot that has either been used successfully in diagnostics or therapy already or is still in the approval phase. The spectrum of possible applications ranges from biopsies for brain tumors and ultrasound examinations to rehabilitation after accidents or strokes.
Axel Weber, VP Business Unit Medical Robotics at KUKA, explained:
“A sensitive, seven-axis lightweight robot, the LBR Med is flexible and easy to integrate into medical products for various medical activities. With its responsive sensors, comprehensive safety precautions and hygiene-optimized surfaces, it is ideally suited for applications in medical technology.”
Taking the Strain
Science fiction has long fantasized about ways to augment human power and endurance through mechanical means. Yet futuristic depictions of exoskeletons—or wearable mechanical structures that attach to the human body—have now left the realm of science fiction and have become part of our reality, and are seeing a growing range of applications within the healthcare space.
Also exhibiting at MEDICA 2023, German Bionic is a European robotics firm that develops and manufactures smart power suits and other wearable technologies. The company will use the trade show to showcase its Apogee+ power exoskeleton, which is designed to support healthcare professionals in hospitals, elderly care and rehab units.
The device is pitched as a “personal lift assist” for nurses, care workers and other healthcare professionals who need to get to grips with a patient, elderly care resident or someone undergoing physical therapy—without needing to risk strain or injury to themselves or break out complicated support equipment such as harnesses and cranes.
Armin G. Schmidt, founder and CEO of German Bionic, said:
“The Apogee+ is the world’s first robotic exoskeleton that has been designed for the specific needs of workers in healthcare environments and patient handling.
Its development is firmly grounded in the latest research in nursing care and based on extensive machine learning and the application of AI. This allows the fully connected exosuit to adapt to specific conditions in care settings, providing optimal coordination between the human wearer and the machine.”
Revolutionizing Minimally Invasive Surgery
The last 20 years have seen a paradigm shift in minimally invasive surgery with the advent and uptake of robotic surgery. In urological oncology, for example, where robotic procedures have rapidly become the standard of care, surgery has been revolutionized. More than 90% of radical prostatectomies in the UK are now performed with robotic assistance.
AKTORmed, another MEDICA 2023 exhibitor, is the German market leader in robotic assistance systems guiding endoscopes in minimally invasive surgery. The company will use the trade fair to showcase its SOLOASSIST II platform, which sets an industrial benchmark regarding flexibility, functionality and operability.
Suitable for interventions in general surgery, urology, gynecology and cardiology, it includes a sophisticated combination of direct manual control, joystick navigation and high-quality voice control that provides the most intuitive surgeon-machine interaction currently available.
Going forward, the field of medical robotics will continue to develop alongside advancements in machine learning, data analytics, computer vision and other technologies. Medical robots of all types will continue to evolve, completing a growing range of tasks autonomously, efficiently and accurately.
In the near future, such tasks could include performing lab tests without intervention, taking tissue biopsies, attacking cancerous tumors and speaking to patients about their symptoms. Axel Weber added:
“The combination of medical robotics with AI will increasingly create autonomous solutions that enhance treatment and healthcare outcomes.
As medical robots become cheaper and more functional, they will become increasingly commonplace in areas where they are needed but still not yet widely used, such as in elderly care.”