Robots and medicine

I’ve recently been looking into the development of robotics in the medical field as a topic for a debate I took part in at my school, and it is a genuinely exciting prospect that I want to share with you today.

One of the uses of robotics in the medical field is for surgery. Robots can be used to perform surgery using very small surgical tools attached to a robotic arm. A surgeon controls the robot with a computer and the operation can be carried out with greater precision as it allows the surgeon greater access to areas under the operation using more precise and less invasive methods. There are endless advantages:

  • No large cuts (smaller scars)
  • Less post operation pain
  • Less risk of infection
  • Less bleeding
  • No fatigue for surgeon
  • Quicker operation

I could talk for ages about its endless advantages, however to summarise, the surgery is quicker, cheaper and patients spend less time in hospital. Just think of the amount of time and money that the NHS could save with these medical robots, time and money that the NHS frankly need for other areas.

A medical robot being operated by a surgeon
A medical robot being operated by a surgeon

Now if you thought that was cool here’s the best part. Surgeons can control these surgery robots without being in the room. One particular surgeon by the name of Mehran Anvari operates on patients that are 400 kilometres away using a console in St Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Canada. How awesome is that. He can literally chop you up and fix your organs from 400km away! That’s over the distance between London and Paris. The major advantage of this is that if you present with a condition which requires a special kind of surgery, that surgery can be performed without you having to travel large distances or to the other side of the world. Now that’s some cool star wars stuff.

There are many other uses of robotics in medicine also. Robots are starting to be developed that take over the roles of nurses in taking blood and performing tests. This again frees up NHS resources.

Right check this one out. There is an origami robot which you swallow as a pill. The capsule containing it then dissolves in the patient’s stomach and unfolds itself. Controlled by a technician with the help of magnetic fields it can patch up wounds in the stomach lining or safely remove foreign items such as swallowed toys. There are literally robots which can save lives without you even needing surgery.

I want to quickly touch on the use of robots in exoskeletons as it is something which I have personally seen to be in great need by some people. I undertook a 3 week trip to Bangladesh last summer as a volunteer at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed. There were hundreds of patients with spinal cord injury or severe disability, many of which impacted mobility, and many could not walk. I spent some time in the orthotics department where I saw how supports made from plastic were used to help patients regain some mobility, but with limited success. Robots can be used to create exoskeletons which could restore severely disabled peoples mobility, and completely change their life. Believe me, something like this would have an enormous impact on the lives of some of the people I met out there and all over the world.

I’m going to move away from the medical field for a bit, but stick with the topic of saving lives. I was reading BBC news this morning with my morning bowl of cereal and read a very recent article literally published yesterday about how Facebook is now using artificial intelligence to spot suicidal users who may be at risk of killing themselves. It marks the first use of AI technology to review messages on the network since founder Mark Zuckerberg announced last month that he also hopes to use algorithms to identify posts by terrorists, among other concerning content. This is solid evidence of artificial evidence being used to prevent suicide as well as terrorism. Wow.

Facebook AI

Robots are literally saving lives and making the world a nicer place to live in. It really excites me to be going into a career where hopefully we will see even more robots in the medical field soon. The opportunities to enrich the medical profession with use of robotics are huge, and I can’t wait to see what else robots can offer to medicine.

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