Technology continues to move forward at a blistering pace, forging opportunities for safer and more advanced robotics. One area that will continue to see remarkable growth in 2018 is the medical robotics industry. In the past 25 years, robotics has made a serious impact on the medical industry as a whole. Unlike other areas of robotics, medical robots are subject to rules and regulations set by several governing bodies like the US Food and Drug Administration. Medical robots must perform at a higher standard than other types of robots because they could mean the difference between life and death. These robots are able to perform such critical tasks thanks to the help of sensors, which continue to advance and improve.
As these sensors evolve and surgeons become more comfortable with using robots for surgery and more companies provide medical robots, we will soon see the day when robots are used in almost every hospital. Over the next five years, the surgical robotics market will experience a growth of 17% compounding annually up to $8.8 billion by 2022. This creates an opportunity for those in the robotic sensor manufacturing industry to meet the growing needs of this future demand. Dozens of sensors are required for each of these robots to function and respond to its environment, ranging from articulations and gyroscopes to positioning moving parts, pressure sensors, and more. The sensors can be divided into two main categories – key enabler sensors at the interface between human and machine and also other sensors not specifically developed for medical robotics applications.
One of the most important sensor technologies being developed involves haptic sensing, which allows the surgeon to “feel” the tissues remotely. It is one of the most frequently requested improvements from surgeons and will lead the way in making surgical robots commonplace in hospitals. Once a a more advanced haptic sensor is developed, it will be easier for surgeons to receive immediate feedback, allowing them to perform their surgeries more effectively. TransEnterix is the first developer to propose a surgical robot with haptic feedback capabilities and they are commercializing this product. If they can successfully develop this sensor technology, it could revolutionize the medical robotics field.
Another major development in the world of medical robotics is the idea of creating a disposable camera for laparoscopic surgeries. Though this is something currently in practice in endoscopies, it works a bit differently for laparoscopes. If this technology were successfully developed, it would drastically shift the number of cameras sold to surgical robot-makers, increasing the number to as many as one per surgery. This is just one of many coming breakthroughs in medical robotics that are set to revolutionize the industry.
One such revolution may come in the form of advanced exoskeletons to improve physical rehabilitation for those with missing limbs. Cyberdyne recently received approval from the US FDA to begin offering its Hybrid Assisted Limb (HAL) lower body exoskeleton to users in the US. HAL is a walking robot that you strap onto your legs and uses sensors attached to your muscles to detect bioelectric signals sent from your brain to your muscles instructing them to move. Though this is a different type of robot and sensor than those mentioned previously, it is a sensor advancement that is improving the medical field.
Cyberdyne is just one of many companies looking to capitalize on the demand for robotics in the medical field. Engineering Services Inc. who developed the CanArm collaborative robot, or cobot, spent years researching and relying upon their rich experience to improve their previous model are also looking to enter the medical robotics world. They have seen increased demand for medical robotics of all kinds and are seeking to fill some of that need. Though they have kept their development in near stealth mode, they have admitted to working on the technology. One could assume it may involve a new type of cobot, which is an area in which they have much experience.
There are many facets of the medical robotics industry that will continue to see growth in the near future, but they can only develop as quickly as the sensors improve. The outlook for the medical robotics industry and particularly medical robotics sensors is very good in the coming years as technology continues to adapt and improve.