ODENSE, Denmark — One of the busier exhibition stands at RoboBusiness Europe 2016 was Melvin, a unique robot for helping people on the toilet. The assistive robot removes the user’s pants, helps the user sit and stand, and aids in putting the pants back on.
The device’s name is taken from the British slang word for a “reverse wedgie.” Melvin’s lighthearted name belies its potential for helping older or disabled people retain some privacy and independence.
Helene HOyer Jensen, sales chief at Aalborg, Denmark-based Melvin ApS, spoke about assisted living technologies at the conference here earlier this month.
The involvement of end users is absolutely necessary when developing new robotic technology, she said. This is particularly true with assistive devices. End users participated throughout the development process, and their contributions were essential because they saw things differently than engineers, HOyer Jensen said.
Melvin was developed in cooperation with the municipality of Aalborg and LT Automation ApS.
“We realized that there are no other products like Melvin,” she explained. “It is a new way of helping people taking off and putting on their pants. Melvin was developed at request of the citizens, and the robot had to be easy to use and should require no time for preparation.”
Eight prototypes have been sold to Aalborg in North Jutland, Denmark, and will begin use in August. Melvin ApS reported that its assistive robot received strong interest from other companies, municipalities, and hospitals at RoboBusiness Europe.
Denmark invests in efficient ‘super’ hospitals
In the next 10 to 15 years, Denmark is building six new “super” hospitals and is going to renovate 10 existing hospitals to become “super” hospitals at a total amount of around $6.2 billion.
Claus Duedal Pedersen, chief consultant at Odense University Hospital, was chairman for the “Health Care Robotics for Better Quality of Life” session track at RoboBusiness Europe.
Other healthcare robotics practitioners discussed market trends, use cases, and precision surgery. They also spoke about welfare technology and improving human-robot interaction.
The experts cited a variety of healthcare applications, ranging from simple transportation to highly advanced surgery, each with its own justification and potential for development.
Duedal Pedersen said that, like other countries, Denmark faces an aging population and a shortage of caretakers. The New University Hospital in Odense (OUH) is expected to reduce the number of beds by 20 percent and require 8 percent less budget compared with existing facilities.
In 2014, the existing Odense University Hospital had 1,038 beds, conducted 40,113 operations, and discharged 104,229 patients. It also handled 1.1 million outpatient visits that year.
The key is an increase in productivity, thanks in part to assistive robots.
New hospitals will be heavily automated
The New OUH will use pharmacy robots. Data collected from patients will be used to produce personalized medicine that will be packed and distributed to each patient.
There will be five clusters of pharmacies — and no storage rooms for medicine at each department, as there are at many hospitals today. How the medication will be transported to patients is yet to be decided.
Scanning robots will ensure that patients get the correct medicine. Maybe there will also be robots to mix the chemotherapy when the “super” hospital is ready in 2022.
The UV-Disinfection robot supplied by Blue Ocean Robotics ApS could destroy viruses and bacteria, allowing staffers to focus their cleanup efforts elsewhere.
Seven towers of stocks will quickly provide departments with supplies through an automated system. The basement will contain robots with self-driving trains and robots that can deliver food.
What other robots will developed for the healthcare market by the time the New OUH opens? Blood-testing robots? Injection robots? Maybe an assistive robot to aid hospital personnel, compound medicines, and dispense them?
Surgical robot in development
The Raven surgical robot at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark is only one of three such robots in Europe.
The ROSOR research project, being conducted with the Odense University Hospital, is intended to establish a library of robotic surgical procedures, said Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu, an associate professor.
“We teach the robot surgical actions by recording a specific surgical action performed by expert surgeons,” he said. “Based on the recordings, we develop algorithms that we are able to adapt to the current patient and thereby enable all surgeons to execute the recordings of the expert. This is possible because we have full access to both hardware and software of the robot.”
Furthermore, “Raven enables companies to test surgical solutions here at University of Southern Denmark, where they make sure their prototypes work before making the expensive tests at a hospital,” said Savarimuthu.
A tech pill to swallow
Also at RoboBusiness Europe, Esmaeil S. Nadimi, an associate professor at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute, talked about diagnosing colon cancer with mini robots. The PillCam is long-term research project, and ingestible capsules containing tiny robots probably won’t be ready for use until 2030.
This is a further development of colon capsule endoscopy (CCE), which promises to complement the two existing diagnostic methods of screening for colorectal cancer. In CCE, a patient swallows a mini camera that takes pictures of the colon while passing through the body without harm.
The mini robots could be used to detect polyps that could become cancerous, Nadimi said. However, he said, there are many things that can delay the project because it affects life-threatening conditions, and there are many risk factors.
Better living with assistive robots
Melvin was just one of the assistive robots at the RoboBusiness Europe exhibition.
For instance, attendees could try to walk with an intelligent walker from the EU project SILVER (Supporting Independent Living for the Elderly through Robotics) and look at a suit for rehabilitation.
In the fringes of assisted living technologies were floor-cleaning robots. Another innovative project at Odense University Hospital is testing Google Glasses for hands-free clinical use.