Medical robot sales make up 44% of the professional service robots sector. From 3-6 June in Munich, AUTOMATICA 2014 is providing professional service robotics with its own platform.
Healthcare robotics has led the field of professional service robot use; whether in surgery, nursing and rehabilitation, or logistics and organisation of hospitals, service robots are being used successfully in an increasing number of areas. With sales of $1.5 billion in 2012, medical robots have a 44% share of the total volume of professional service robotics. From 3-6 June, professional service robotics will have its very own platform at AUTOMATICA 2014, presenting the very latest developments and concrete applications in different fields.
Thanks to movement detection, navigation, learning ability and artificial intelligence, man and machine are making an increasingly effective team. A classic example of this is the global success of the 'da Vinci' surgery robot, which helps to carry out complex minimally invasive surgery quickly and safely.
"In urology, we can remove complex kidney tumours, saving organs with less pain and leading to earlier patient discharge," says Dr Ahmed Magheli, chief urology physician at Charité Berlin. "This concerns radical prostate operations, which require a particularly delicate technique, as continence and potency are endangered.
"Da Vinci has revolutionised minimally invasive prostate surgery, making it accessible to the general public," enthuses Magheli.
The robots remain constantly under the control of the doctor during surgery, confirms Professor Gerd Hirzinger, former director of the Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics at the German Centre for Air and Space Travel in Oberpfaffenhofen.
"However," he says, "a robot arm can insert a biopsy needle right on target in a brain tumour only a few millimetres big, without shaking and possibly more precisely than a surgeon's hand."
KUKA robots work very closely with humans, planning and administering treatment as well as helping to make diagnoses. Robots also position patients, conduct bone surgery concept studies and enable robot-supported rehabilitation after strokes to improve the quality of life for people in need of help.
"With key technologies in the area of safety, simple operating concepts and autonomous navigation, robots are being transformed into clever assistants for people," states Michael Otto, head of Medical Robotics at KUKA Laboratories.
Robots provide valuable services in the logistics of modern hospitals, such as Niguarda Cà Granda Hospital in Milan. On a
site of approximately 340,000m2, 32 driverless transport vehicles bring meals to the wards, pick up laundry, dispose of waste, retrieve drugs from pharmaceutical stock management, procure medical accessories and perform sterilisations, leaving the more than 4,100 specialists to spend their time with the patients.
"Flexible, configurable and autonomous service robotics is essential for this high degree of automation," says Nicola Tomatis, CEO of BlueBotics and inventor of autonomous navigation technology. "For economical wide-scale use, independent functioning in a human environment requires intelligent navigation without the need for additional infrastructure."
Service robots are also registering economic success in rehabilitation. "Insights into the neuroplasticity of the central nervous system and function-oriented learning demonstrate that patients with neurological movement disorders can relearn through intensive training," explains Dr Gery Colombo, co-founder and CEO of Hocoma, international leaders in automated therapy equipment. The new FreeD module supplements the company's Lokomats robots with additional degrees of freedom and trains motoric aspects for the later rehabilitation phase.
"The Cochrane review, a recent evidence-based meta-analysis, shows that stroke patients who receive robot-supported walking training combined with physiotherapy are far more likely to learn to walk independently again than those who train conventionally."
"The future challenges for service robots lie in communication and the close interaction with people," observes Dr Roko Tschakarow, SCHUNK's division manager for mobile gripping systems.
Service robots are especially interesting in areas where they work more precisely than people. With Italian quality control testers Loccioni, SCHUNK has produced a hospital pharmacy robot whose grippers mix toxic substances for tumour therapy; the automation of this process demonstrably improved its quality.
Concrete applications in service robotics will be presented in a separate exhibition area in Hall A4 at AUTOMATICA 2014. The products on offer will be supplemented by scientific talks and panel discussions at the AUTOMATICA Forum in Hall B5.