SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Many discussions about robotics in healthcare and medicine tend to focus on the physicians or their patients. But developers should also play a key role in making sure that robots address real needs, said speakers at the inaugural Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum here yesterday.
Here are some takeaways from Day 1 of the conference and expo:
1. Automation of tasks is inevitable
“Labor shortages will accelerate the development of service robotics,” said Rich Mahoney, co-founder and CEO of wearable technology maker Seismic. “There’s a coming crisis in healthcare.”
Robotics promises to democratize care by “immortalizing” skilled practitioners,” he said in his opening keynote at the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum. “We currently spend a lot of time measuring patients and outcomes, but we also need to measure surgeons.”
Most doctors and nurses are grateful for robots once they understand that the systems are there to assist them and not replace them, said Andrea Thomaz, CEO of Diligent Robotics.
2. Understand the application and how others have solved similar problems
According to Corey Ryan, manager of medical robotics at KUKA Robotics, developers should first understand whether a collaborative robot or indeed any robot is necessary to solve a problem.
— Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum (@HCRoboticsForum) December 10, 2019
“Understand application-specific requirements for motion control; not every situation needs a specialized robot,” he said during his keynote. “Standard technology can be modified for collaboration at a much lower cost. Use specialized technologies as a key to reduce development time.”
Chun Hua Zheng, senior clinical development manager at Intuitive Surgical, told a packed room about how clinical development engineers (CDEs) serve as internal champions for “translating the art of surgery into objective design metrics” to improve the quality of care.
CDEs work with the rest of the company to identify clinical problems, define needs, and translate them into product specifications, she explained. They also identify clinical risks, test features, confirm benefits in the field, and work with marketing.
3. Be ready to customize
In a panel on “Advanced Motion Control Solutions for Healthcare Applications,” the participants agreed that off-the-shelf components provide consistency, but they typically need to be assembled in custom configurations to meet the particular demands of a healthcare customer.
“We work closely with engineers on design parameters,” said Bob Mullins, vice president at Harmonic Drive.
“Timing, range, and response times are important for considering centralized versus decentralized controllers,” said Prabh Gowrisankaran, vice president of engineering and strategy at Performance Motion Devices.
4. Get ready for integration
Whether it’s standardizing chargers, data-sharing architectures, or safety measures for surgical robots, much work has yet to be done, said panelists at the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum.
One of the biggest challenges for industrial automation providers is integration into the overall architecture, said Brian Mason, West Coast business development manager at Elmo Motion Control.
In a panel on “Robotics-as-a-Service Business Models for Healthcare Solutions,” Thomaz and Tony Melanson, vice president of marketing at Aethon, agreed that they would be interested in more interoperability for things such as elevator doors and charging units, which Melanson noted are not the differentiators for Aethon’s products.
— Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum (@HCRoboticsForum) December 9, 2019
5. Best-in-class components are key to improving quality of care
“Outside of the healthcare space, I’ve seen companies put millions of dollars worth of servers on a cheap uninterruptible power supply [UPS],” said Gary Mulcahy, chief technology officer at Astrodyne TDI in a session on power assurance for robotic surgery.
The choice of battery materials, battery management systems, and power converters is relevant to patient protection if power is disrupted during a surgical procedure, he said.
“Medical applications carry additional safety and safety and performance requirements,” Mulcahy said.
For example, while it may not matter if most electronics in an emergency room go down for a few seconds while failing over from a loss of power, surgical systems are too critical to have such a long wait and need reliable and robust UPSes to at least disengage, he said.