July 25, 2016      

In the near future, more critical operations could be performed by intelligent machines, say industry experts. After strengthening its sales in South Korea, Hyundai Group is exploring the global market for its medical robots.

Computer-assisted surgery and medical automation could eliminate the need for human intervention, according to a medical robotics report from Allied Market Research. The report assesses the size and share, demand, and growth of the market.

Scientists at Hyundai are working in this direction. Official sources said that after delivering 10 robots to healthcare institutions in Korea on June 27, 2016, the company plans to expand to overseas markets.

Hyundai Heavy Industries took a major step when it began testing its robots to aid patient rehabilitation at the Asan Medical Center in Seoul’s Songpa District. This confirmed that Hyundai is looking to become a major player in medical robotics.

The company, which is also working on the H-LEX exoskeleton for industrial use, hopes to apply similar technology to rehabilitation and helping the elderly and disabled with mobility.

Hyundai medical robots first step to critical procedures

Hyundai’s “Morning Walk” robot provides some automation to help patients walk. It is undergoing clinical tests to assess product safety and efficiency, according to the Korea JoongAng Daily.

As it obtains data from such clinical trials through next May, the manufacturer is investing heavily in automating more critical procedures for the global market. Hyundai will focus first on the Asian market and then expand farther.

“One of the key target markets is Europe,” said a spokesman for Hyundai Heavy Industry. “The global medical automation market is expected to grow up to the $67 billion level by 2018. This shows that the company will soon position its machines in the medical robotics and computer-assisted surgery market successfully and take on the industry by storm.”

Hyundai's Morning Walk medical robot can help patients walk.

Hyundai’s Morning Walk robot is in trials at five hospitals in South Korea.

Earlier this month, Hyundai delivered about 10 robots to five different medical centers. These institutions include Ulsan Noin Hospital, Ulsan University Hospital, Cheonnam National University, and Gwangju 2nd Geriatric Hospital, as well as Asan Medical Center.

Hyundai was also shortlisted in 2015 by the Ministry of Science, Information and Communication Technologies, and Future Planning for its research and development in robotics and computer-assisted surgery. The company said it plans to blend innovative technology with medical services to serve international patients.

In the past, procedures such as removing tumors required large incisions that left scars and risked infection. But minimally invasive surgery with tools such as those made by Hyundai can make such procedures easier and safer.

“The medical automation industry is growing fast,” explained Shin Hyun-soo, who leads the technical research center at Hyundai Heavy Industry. “In order to extend our business territory in the industry, we will first try to finish the project that is going on with Morning Walk.”

Competition in medical robotics

However, any Hyundai medical robot is far from alone in the medical robot and computer-assisted surgery market, which analysts predict could grow from $4.2 billion last year to $11.4 billion in 2020. Some of Hyundai’s direct rivals include Johnson & Johnson, which is working with Google parent Alphabet Inc. in Verb Surgical Inc.

Hyundai has already made huge investments in the Robodoc system since 2012.

South Korea hopes to compete with Japan, China, and the U.S. with its own medical robots such as the Revo-i.

“It is important to understand that surgical techniques themselves cannot be patented,” said Lee Woo-jung, a professor at Yonsei University College of Medicine working on the Revo-i. “They are encouraged to be shared to treat and save more patients.”

“What may be subject to patent protection are just the technologies that help doctors practice certain techniques,” he said. “If you think about the technologies needed for surgical robots, many of them were invented a long while ago, as far back as the 1920s.”

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