What are the main types of robots used in healthcare?

2 January 2020 (Last Updated January 2nd, 2020 16:44)

The healthcare industry uses four types of robots to improve the current standard of care, while also helping humans to do things that they may not have been able to do in the past, or do things quicker and with fewer errors. Listed below are the leading medical robots, as identified by GlobalData.

What are the main types of robots used in healthcare?

The healthcare industry uses four types to improve the current standard of care, while also helping humans to do things that they may not have been able to do in the past, or do things quicker and with fewer errors.

Listed below are the leading medical robots, as identified by GlobalData.

Types of robots used in healthcare

Surgical Robots

Major manufacturers are increasing their R&D efforts within robotic surgical systems. The overall market is currently dominated by Intuitive Surgical, but the landscape is rapidly changing. The entrance of major manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson and Medtronicare is bolstering the medtech surgical robotics market.

There are specific product lines from each company focusing on individual therapeutic areas for minimally invasive robotic surgery. For example, the da Vinci System is a general surgical robot focusing on a myriad of surgical procedures in urological, bariatric, and gynaecological surgical procedures. Additionally, the MAKO System from Stryker specialises in orthopaedic surgery, specifically partial and complete knee replacements.

The key to market domination will be product proliferation, as each company tries to highlight its own features. Specific companies have remarkably distinct operation methods, such as seen with Intuitive Surgical compared to TransEnterix. Both companies offer robotic surgical systems with system specific attachments, but Intuitive has built-in chips to determine the use of their disposable accessories, and TransEnterix’s attachments are reusable.

The procedure volumes of robotic surgical procedures within the healthcare industry are growing rapidly as well. This growth can be attributed to the increase in the adoption rates of robotic surgical systems globally. Intuitive Surgical is the market leader, and its global procedures increased by 32% from 2017 to 2018.

Exoskeletons

Robots can aid recovery and assist with surgery. For example, Cyberdyne’s Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) exoskeleton, which uses sensors placed on the skin to detect small electrical signals in the patient’s body and respond with movement at the joint, are designed to assist patients rehabilitate from conditions leading to lower limb disorders, including spinal cord injuries and strokes.

Such devices are not cheap—the monthly rental for a HAL suit is expected to be $1,000—and the price will need to come down as output scales up and component costs of items including sensors, electronics, and electrical engineering decrease.

The exoskeleton market is one of the fastest growing segments in robotics. It includes bio-feedback waistband lumbar support for airport and warehouse workers, which are already a common sight in Japan. Advances in brain-machine connectivity will impact the evolution of exoskeletons. The leading companies in the field are Cyberdyne, ReWalk Robotics, and Ekso Bionics.

Care Robots

The number of robots used to provide care and support to elderly and disabled patients is currently very low, but is expected to increase significantly over the next decade, particularly in countries like Japan, which is facing a predicted shortfall in the number of available caregivers. Initial use cases for these products are relatively simple, such as helping people get into and out of bed, but they will increasingly be called upon to perform more complex tasks, from reminding patients when to take medication to providing emotional support and interaction for those lacking regular human contact.

Another expected use case for care robots is to assist nurses with the multitude of tasks that they perform on an hourly basis. Many of these tasks are simple but vital, such as taking blood, recording temperature, or improving patient hygiene. If robots were able to help with these simple repetitive tasks, it would give nurses more time to focus on individualised patient care and devising treatment plans. Products like the Robear Japanese, developed by research institute RIKEN and Sumitomo Riko, are already assisting patients and nurses in Japan.

Toyota and Honda have been developing human support robots (HSRs) for many years. In 2016, Toyota launched a $1bn five-year project to open and run two AI/robotics labs in Palo Alto, California, US under the leadership of former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) robotics chief Gill Pratt. The facilities were aimed as much at Toyota’s HSR division as its automotive operation. Honda is doing something similar, but the project is based in Tokyo.

AIST’s Paro is classified as a therapeutic robot. Designed to be cute and elicit an emotional response from patients in hospitals and nursing homes, Paro is a robotic baby harp seal covered in soft white fur and exhibits many of the same behaviours as a real pet.

Hospital Robots

Hospital robots, like Aethon’s TUG autonomous mobile robot, can be used to deliver medications, laboratory specimens, or other sensitive material within a hospital environment. TUG can navigate using a built-in map and an array of on-board sensors. Additionally, it uses Wi-Fi to communicate with elevators, automatic doors, and fire alarms.

Among the big medical equipment makers, GE, McKesson, and Siemens are also manufacturing hospital robots. An industry outsider, iRobot, teamed up with InTouch Health to create a robot that is specifically made for hospitals.

Robots have been designed to disinfect hospital devices and equipment. One company that is showing a lot of promise in this market is Xenex, which has created a robot that disinfects using pulsed Xenon light and can disinfect an entire patient room in less than 20 minutes. Currently, more than 400 hospitals are working with Xenex.