The use of “cobots” (collaborative robots) and artificial intelligence (AI) in today’s medical system has revolutionized the capacity of healthcare practitioners to perform a variety of medical and diagnostic tasks. But could there be unintended consequences for surgeons and other doctors using these robots and AI?
The term cobot is derived from a combination of the English words “collaboration” and “robot” and describes robots designed for direct collaboration with humans. If humans and robots share a workspace without being separated from each other by barriers, this is also referred to as human-robot collaboration (HRC).
Many industries are turning to automation as they become more technologically advanced, and the medical sector is no exception. Innovation ensures a wide variety of business fields are incorporating automation.
In the laboratory, the need for automation is becoming increasingly apparent.
For example, automation can make the procurement of laboratory results faster, safer, and more efficient. It also allows significantly more samples to be processed while substantially reducing the error rate. Human error can occur even among professionals, especially in life sciences, chemicals, and the pharmaceutical industry, this may mean the difference between life and death. Automation has already gained acceptance in many laboratory facilities, mainly due to its high speed and safety. Analytical tasks such as high-throughput screening are well suited to an automated workflow, as this technique involves analyzing many substances with an always consistent sequence. Samples from patients, analyzed for specific ingredients or defined signs of a disease, are ideally suited for autonomous processing.
The industry as a role model
In 2018, Hannover, Germany hosted the “Integrated Industry – Connect and Collaborate” conference which focused on technological advancements in robot-human collaboration across all industries. Robot-human collaboration is revolutionary for the medical field, affecting both patient and doctors alike.
New technologies such as torque-controlled robotic arms with intelligent software enable safe human-robot collaboration in medical technology. These robots are called “cobots” (collaborative robots) because they do not replace humans in producing or executing assigned tasks but rather provide support.
These are different then robots used in heavy production which have become an essential part of the manufacturing industry today. Collaborative robotics is a recent development growing and evolving rapidly.
When it comes to the current COVID-19 pandemic, these robots can perform non-contact testing or assist in producing mouth and nose coverings such as surgical masks. It gives medical production the ability to ensure consistent product quality. Cobots are also useful because human intervention sometimes creates contamination in asterile environment. Contamination, meanwhile, can be minimized by working with cobots which also be quickly retooled for new product lines.
Cobots have even been designed with sensor technology. This technology can be compared to the senses of a human being. A large number of sensors support the robot in cataloguing a significant amount of data. Acoustic sensors enable the robots to respond to acoustic warning signals. An integrated UR+ certified visual system allows the cobots to in effect, see. Among other operations, the optical sensor system prevents the cobot from colliding with fixed or moving obstacles. It also means cobots can be used for such delicate procedures as surgical implants.. Former Fanuc and Midea manager Olaf Gehrels is looking to expand the field of cobotics in small businesses with his start-up Coboworx but acknowledges safety concerns. “Only a few percent of cobots in use are truly collaborative. And that won’t change until you have intuitive and affordable plug-and-play solutions for the functional safety of the overall system” explains Gehrels.
What advantages do cobots bring?
Automating medical technology with the help of cobots can ensure higher productivity by optimizing equipment and personnel. Because robots can perform their work reliably around the clock without interruption, and deliver continuous quality, waste can be reduced. Another benefit of automation through robots is increased flexibility. Operations can be switched to new products within a short period of time, and even a last-minute changeover or small production quantities are no problem. Collaborating robot arms can be reprogrammed internally and mounted on mobile platforms to improve mobility. Another advantage is quality improvement. For example, repetitive tasks can often be stressful for human workers. After many hours of monotonous work, concentration often wanes. On the other hand, Robots can perform complex assembly tasks precisely, reliably, and without interruption.
Robots are inexpensive at around $35,000 when compared to paying a human salary., not to mention the costs of training and maintaining an employee. The purchase of a robot usually pays for itself within a year.
In conclusion, the use of collaborative robots has already minimized countless risks and is becoming more and more prominent due to constant technological development. The versatile use of robots has already convinced many companies in a wide range of industries and is now also continuously gaining popularity in the medical sector.
Cali is a 2nd year journalism student looking to explore issues of climate change and social justice.