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Medical Robotics Has an ‘Incredibly Exciting’ Future, Predict Experts

Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci Xi surgical robot with operating team. Source: JPA Health Communications

November 22, 2018      

Technological development is leading to an “incredibly exciting” future for medical robots, predicted delegates at the annual Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics. The event, held at the Royal Geographical Society in London, featured an impressive lineup of leading scientists and engineers in medical robotics and related technologies.

Participants came from some of the most prominent medical robotics companies worldwide. They included Brian Miller of Intuitive Surgical, Frederic Moll of Auris Surgical Robotics, Michael Otto of KUKA, Yulun Wang of InTouch Health, Martin Frost of Cambridge Medical Robotics, and Bradley Nelson of Aeon Scientific.

These six experts also attended an inaugural CEO and Founder’s Forum, where they shared their experiences, as well as the challenges and solutions they have identified along the way.

According to Erh-Ya (Asa) Tsui, research group officer in the Hamlyn Centre at Imperial College London, the forum provided “unique insights into the medical robotics industry, their journey of bringing new products to market, and the importance of integrating engineering, clinical and business innovation.”

The main discussions of the session covered the technical approaches taken by each company and how they addressed the innovation and clinical translation. The six also talked about their successes, obstacles and failures, as well as how medical robotics might respond to future clinical needs.

“Compared to previous years, the number of workshops at this year’s symposium grew significantly and covered a range of basic sciences and allied engineering topics in medical robotics, said Tsui. “They ranged from Learning and Autonomy for Medical Robotics, Brain-Computer Interfacing, and Deep Learning for Medical Robotics to Implantable Sensors and Robotics, Micro-Robotics and Drug Delivery, and Wearable and Assistive Robots.”

Improving patient care

Brian Miller, senior vice president and general manager of systems and vision at Intuitive Surgical, described the medical robotics symposium as an important forum in which to “exchange ideas, encourage innovation, and discuss the importance of technologies like robotic-assisted surgery and the increasing role they do — and will continue to — play in healthcare.”

Medical robots continue to get advanced autonomy

Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Xi includes integrated table motion. Source: JPA Health Communications

“The future of robotic-assisted surgery is incredibly exciting,” he said. “It has significant potential to contribute to improving patient care, benefit the next generation of surgeons, and increase the efficiency of hospital teams.”

In the near future, robotic-assisted surgery will continue to embrace and integrate advancements in a number of key areas, Miller predicted. Such technologies include enhanced imaging, intelligent systems, less-invasive approaches, data analytics, and training and optimized learning.

“We anticipate the increasing ability of surgeons and their teams to incorporate online training, more use of training simulators, and the ability to include personalized imaging of their patients to allow them to better prepare for, and even practice, their procedures in advance,” he added.

Grounded in clinical practice

The role of medical robotics must be firmly established in clinical practices, said Prof. Guang-Zhong Yang, director and co-founder of the Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery and deputy chairman of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London.

This is necessary, he said, “both in terms of patient acceptance and clinical value for certain procedures,” he said. “It is now important to drive the technologies, not only in terms of innovation, but also in terms of cost-effectiveness and general accessibility, such that the population at large can benefit from the technologies.”

Yang also noted that he expects an increasing focus on the use of medical robotics for precision surgery. This should help to reduce costs and improve the quality of life after surgery, Yang said.

Looking ahead for medical robotics

Challenges for robot-assisted surgery include increasing levels of autonomy, as well as the associated legal and ethical barriers that need to be overcome for medical robots.

“In this conference, researchers have already focused on the use of new materials for developing future generations of robots, and such interaction with the basic sciences disciplines will intensity in future years,” said Yang.

“The Surgical Robot Challenge we organize each year has shown maturity in terms of the entries submitted,” he said. “Many already have first-in-human studies, highlighting the momentum behind medical robotics development.”

“The event will be part of the 2019 UK Robotics Week, which will continue to shine a spotlight on the diverse range of developments in the general area of robotics and how the UK is pushing ahead the frontiers in some of the key technological developments,” Yang said.