Healthcare has always been inherently human – from how we’re cared for to its fundamental battle with mortality – but it’s about to get a lot more machine.
Artificial intelligence and robotic technology is entering the sector, re-imagining how health professionals work, as well as the ways in which patients are diagnosed, treated and cared for.
From surgery to general practice to research, every aspect of healthcare is being transformed. Here are seven robotic and AI applications set to make an impact, today and tomorrow.
CMR Surgical, UK (2017)
A next-generation surgical robot, Versius performs laparoscopic procedures such as hernia repairs and ear, nose and throat operations.
Its five dextrous, detachable arms are equipped with AI and sensing capabilities. These are controlled by a surgeon via a console and 3D screen and also respond to touch. By self-monitoring 5,000 times per second, each arm delivers a high level of precision.
Smaller, portable and more affordable than previous surgical robots such as the da Vinci, Versius is set to make keyhole surgery more accessible, more flexible and also speed up recovery times.
Neocis, US (2017)
Yomi is a robotically assisted dental surgery system designed to automate and assist dental implant procedures.
Comprising a single dextrous arm, Yomi is pre-programmed to work alongside the dentist, tracking the patient and directing the drill to ensure the correct location, depth and orientation. Its software can be used to pre-plan a procedure based on a patient’s CAT scan and allows for quick changes.
Trialled in China last year, Yomi successfully fitted two implants with an error margin of 0.2-0.3mm. It will enable faster, more accurate dental procedures, reducing workload and errors.
3. General practice
Babylon Health, UK (updated 2017)
Babylon is an AI-powered smartphone app developed by Babylon Health, the London-based tech company behind the UK NHS’s GP at Hand app. It offers medical diagnosis alongside 24/7 video access to real doctors and e-prescriptions.
First the chatbot discusses symptoms with the patient and asks them to map pain and its severity on a human body via the touch screen. It then looks at the patient’s medical records, plus over 300 million data points from other patients and research papers to make a diagnosis.
While this type of AI won’t replace doctors, it’s assisting them by boosting diagnosis accuracy and cutting workload so they can focus on treatment. It’s also improving patient experience.
Aethon, US (2015)
Designed to assist logistics in hospitals and healthcare facilities, TUG is an automated robot system that delivers food, drugs and other clinical supplies.
A self-loading mobile cart powered by smart software algorithms and managed remotely, TUG has inbuilt maps as well as Lidar sensors for 360-degree 3D vision – the same technology used on self-driving cars. This enables it to move along hallways and into lifts, as well as around patients and staff.
By efficiently performing mandatory tasks 24/7 with fewer mistakes, TUG and other medical robots are lowering costs and enabling nurses to spend more time caring for patients.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre (BIDMC), US (2017)
This new AI-powered microscope is being developed for use in hospital laboratories to diagnose deadly blood diseases.
The microscope is equipped with a convolutional neural network (CNN) – “a class of artificial intelligence modelled on the mammalian visual cortex and used to analyse visual data”. Using machine learning, it’s able to recognise and categorise bacteria based on shape and distribution.
Not only will it reduce the expertise needed to accurately and consistently recognise microbes, but it will also speed up processes and diagnosis, enabling faster critical treatment for patients.
The idea is to combine the skills of a microbiology technologist and AI. Specifically, an automated microscope will capture hundreds of images from the patient specimen. The AI program would then identify select images containing microbes and present them to a technologist on a computer screen with a proposed diagnosis. The technologist would then scan the on-screen images and confirm the diagnosis. Microbes are often very rare in specimens, and it may take a long time for a technologist to identify microbes through the standard manual way. Technologist assist would reduce the technologist time needed for a diagnosis to seconds.Dr James Kirby via Digital Trends
Toyota, Japan (2017)
Welwalk WW-1000 is a robotic system designed to assist the rehabilitation of people with lower limb paralysis as a result of strokes and other conditions.
It comprises a flexible robotic leg hooked up to a frame complete with computer system, treadmill and monitor. The patient wears the leg to assist exercise. Using motor learning theory, it’s able to adjust the difficulty level to suit the patient and provide feedback on their gait characteristics.
WW-1000, alongside other bionics and exoskeleton tech, is revolutionising how we treat and care for those with lost or diminished functions, speeding recovery and improving outcomes.
MAP Health Watch
Medicatus, US (2017)
MAP Health Watch is an AI-enabled wearable device that constantly monitors the user’s health to detect medical problems, such as heart disease, before symptoms present themselves.
The watch includes five clinical grade sensors that measure six vital health parameters – including skin temperature and electrodermal activity. Once collected, the data is sent via Bluetooth and processed on its server using rule-based and machine-learning algorithms for accurate identification.
Because of its ability to detect health issues early, this technology serves to make healthcare more preventative and less reactive, enabling system efficiencies and improving patient outcomes.
AI and robotics are transforming healthcare – not by replacing the human face of care, but by assisting it.
By enabling more efficient and cost-effective ways of working, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can offer better, faster, more accessible services – improving treatment and saving lives.