Key challenges of robotics research in medical applications

Medical robotics research is very active today! It started just over 50 years ago with three main goals in mind. First, robotic operation can do what physicians can not do by the accuracy, repeatability, consistency and quality of robotic systems. Robots can enter the human body and conduct non-invasive or minimally invasive surgery to improve results.

The second objective is the diagnosis that can reduce invasion of the human body and improve precision and scope. Third, robotics can restore physical functions by providing artificial components, including robotic prosthetic leg, arms and hands. Older people can also use robotic devices, including smart wheelchairs, walking assist machines and robotic limb powering devices.

The following are today’s key robotic technologies and applications in the biological and medical fields.

  • Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS technology) that can manufacture tools and devices suitable for microsensing, micro actuation, and micromanipulation of biosamples and solutions and bio-objects such as cells. These technologies use methods of IC production or use methods of micromachining.
  • Special robotic systems with an accurate and low-cost operation.
  • Modeling and analysis of accurate and quick algorithms for individual patients.
  • Reliable and effective integration of components and equipment for specific biological and medical operations.
  • Biological system engineering modeling that develops mathematical models to explain biological system behavior and structure.

However, the biological and medical applications of robotics face several fundamental research challenges. In particular, today’s technology, especially in biology, is not mature. There remains an absence of useful tools and sensing technologies to manage large and small bio-objects and bio-samples/solutions. In particular, the following issues have not yet been resolved in biological research.

  • Automated cell handling and operation (probing & sensing) is a big challenge due to the small size of the cells.
  • Automated protein characterization and functional analysis are very difficult, as finding protein structure is slow and costly today.
  • Automated protein crystallography, including crystal harvesting, protein crystallization, and X-ray detection, is not possible even today because protein crystals are very small and they are difficult to detect using vision sensors, and there are no efficient tools to pick and place.
  • Automated DNA sequences are still expensive and slow.
  • Automated DNA and protein chip production, as well as analysis, are still slow and expensive, even though technologies have improved.
  • Robotics and automation engineers have very limited knowledge of life sciences. As a result, engineers have difficulty developing useful tools, devices, and systems efficiently for both biological and medical applications.
  • When it comes to analysis and modeling, the emphasis is always patient-specific.
  • Developing computer-based systems for sensory, motor, and human adaptive abilities require considerable investments and a constrained environment.

Whilst medical robotics is one of the fastest-growing industries in the medical equipment industry, robotics, and relevant technologies are relatively immature for minimum-invasive surgery, targeted therapying, hospital optimization, emergency response, protheses and home care. However, the effects of robotics on medicine are undeniable.