Saturday, September 12, 2009

What Next? Robot Doctors? (Don't Hold Your Breath)

"Surgical Robots Operate With Precision"
Gadget Lab, Wired (September 11, 2009)

"Dread going the doctor? It could be worse. Your next physician could have the bedside manner of a robot. In fact, your next physician could be a robot.

"Scared yet?

"Surgeons and medical engineers have been trying to create machines that can assist in surgery, increase a surgeon’s dexterity and support hospital staff. These aren’t humanoid robots but computer controlled systems that have been optimized for use in sensitive situations. An exhibition called Sci-fi Surgery: Medical Robots, opening this week at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, shows a range of robots used in medicine..

" 'Industrial robots appeared in factories in the early 1960s and robots have become an important part of space exploration,' says Sarah Pearson, curator of the exhibition. 'But robots have been comparatively slow to be used in medicine because surgeons haven’t felt comfortable with them.'..."

PROBOT, the robot in that photo, was built and tested in 1988. the article give a few details about PROBOT, including why it wasn't given the range of motions that are standard for industrial robots. PROBOT used an i486DX2-based PC to handle instructions given by doctors, worked quite well, and went into storage after funding ran out.

Doctor's didn't like using it.

I think I see their point. It's a little awkward, setting up a specific set of instructions for a robot. Particularly if you didn't grow up doing that sort of thing.

Besides, with a 486 brain, PROBOT probably wasn't all that bright - and couldn't handle unexpected situations.

The Da Vinci robot, so-called, seems to have been more warmly received.

This Da Vinci, though, is a walo, not a robot. "Waldo" is the name of a 1942 short story by Robert A. Heinlein, which described a remote-manipulation device. Since then, a device which mimics the operator's actions at a distance has been called a "waldo." Journalists don't seem to know the distinction between a robot ("a mechanism that can move automatically") and a waldo, where actions are controlled by someone's brain, with the person's hands (generally) as a control interface.

The article goes on to discuss the Bloodbot (this one actually is a robot), ARES Prototype Robot (the patient swallows one module at a time), Freehand Robotic camera (a waldo, again), and RI-Man (a robot, apparently; humanoid; strong enough to lift a child).

The company that makes RI-Man is coming developing RIBA.


pinktentacle3, YouTube (August 27, 2009)
video, 0:50

And yes: Ri-Man and RIBA come from Japan.

I think it will be a while before AI can handle diagnosing illness and injury - and much longer before doctors are willing to admit it.

Although I'm used to seeing a human face when talking to a doctor or nurse, my experience has been that having a human doctor is no guarantee of adequate care.

But that's another topic. (A Catholic Citizen in America (February 3, 2009"))

Bottom line? This article give a pretty good look at today's automated and semi-automated medical technology.

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