Medical robots: Nine exciting facts

By Dr. Bertalan Mesko

Do you remember how Anakin Skywalker was seriously burnt and lost his legs in the third episode of Star Wars, The Revenge of the Sith? And do you also remember how robot surgeons did the best they could to save him? In the very near future, similarly amazing robots might come to healthcare to save our lives, too.

Medical robots don’t only exist in sci-fi movies, they are coming to healthcare. Robots can support, assist and extend the service health workers are offering. In jobs with repetitive and monotonous functions they could even obtain the capacity to completely replace humans, freeing up healthcare professionals for other tasks. If medical professionals want to utilize them successfully, they should learn more about them. Here are the nine most exciting medical robot facts.

1) 70% drop in hospital-acquired infections due to Xenex Robot

Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in the United States 1 in every 25 patients will contract hospital acquired infections (HAIs) such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and C. diff (Clostridium difficile), and one in nine will die. In Canada, more than 200,000 patients get infections every year; more than 8,000 of these patients die as a result

The Xenex Robot.
The Xenex Robot.

The Xenex Robot might constitute the next level of hygiene. It allows for fast and effective systematic disinfection of any space within a healthcare facility. This helpful automatic tool destroys deadly microorganisms causing HAIs by utilizing special UV disinfection methodologies. The Xenex Robot is more effective in causing cellular damage to microorganisms than other devices for disinfection, thus the number of HAIs might be more effectively reduced. Westchester Medical Center reported a 70 per cent drop in Intensive Care Unit C. diff with the use of Xenex Robots.


Pepper (front)  and the smaller Nao.
Pepper (front) and the smaller Nao.

2) Two Belgian hospitals “Hired” Pepper Robots as receptionists

Pepper, the 1.2 meter tall humanoid “social robot” will be “employed” as a receptionist in two Belgian hospitals. It’s a fascinating idea – because let’s be honest: there is not a single person who was not even once greeted by a grumpy receptionist during a hospital visit and got lost in a hospital due to information hastily provided by kind but tired staff at the end of their shift.

Pepper can recognize the human voice in 20 languages and can detect whether it is talking to a man, woman or child. Its skills enable Pepper to “work” as a receptionist in huge hospitals and to accompany visitors to the correct department so they do not get lost while trying to see their loved ones. “Social robots” such as Pepper or the smaller Nao might also be used as assistance in exercise sessions and help children overcome their fears of surgery.


3) By 2020, surgical robotics sales are expected to almost double to $6.4 billion

The daVinci Robot. Photo courtesy of Intuitive Surgical Inc.
The daVinci Robot. Photo courtesy of Intuitive Surgical Inc.

What would you ask before undergoing an operation? You would ask for a successful procedure and that the doctor be at his or her best, wouldn’t you? The da Vinci Surgical System helps to ensure this: it enables the surgeon to operate with enhanced vision, precision and control. Thus it contributes greatly to a successful procedure.

This robotic system features a magnified 3D high-definition vision system and tiny wristed instruments that bend and rotate far greater than the human hand. With the da Vinci Surgical System, surgeons operate through just a few small incisions. The surgeon is 100% in control of the robotic system at all times, and he or she is able to carry out more precise operations than previously thought possible. This industry is about to boom as recently reported.


KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA4) 750,000 remote clinical encounters through Intouch Health

Imagine you are at home with your dad and he suddenly feels a strong headache, starts to feel dizzy and has a speech disorder which he has never experienced before. Of course you would immediately call an ambulance. But what if you live in a rural area or frontier town where it takes ages until help arrives?

Intouch health and its telehealth network could help in such situations. Through the waste network patients in remote areas have access to high-quality emergency consultations for stroke, cardiovascular, and burn services in the exact time they need it. Moreover with telehealth, medical professionals in such towns and rural areas also have access to specialty services and patients can be treated in their own communities.

Through this network, a “telemedical robot” has already established over 750,000 clinical encounters where it was not possible before.



tug-robot5) TUG Robot able to carry around more than 400 Kilograms of medication

The TUG robot is the robust and muscular big brother of Pepper, who is able to carry around a multitude of racks, carts or bins up to 453 kilograms in the form of medications, laboratory specimens or other sensitive materials. The TUG is sent or requested using a touch screen interface and upon completing its “mission”, it returns to the charging dock for a sip of energy while it is loaded for the next job.

And the benefits? These robots work around the clock, so fewer employees are necessary for the burdening nightshifts. Staff can spend more time with patients or assist nursing instead of transporting goods through the hospital. Moreover, nurses do not have to carry around heavy loads and can avoid related injuries.


RIBA (ROBEAR) robot. Photo courtesy of RIKEN.
RIBA (ROBEAR) robot. Photo courtesy of RIKEN.

6) Bear-shaped robot can lift patients out of bed 40 times a day

Riba or Robot for Interactive Body Assistance is somewhat similar to the TUG robot, however it is used at homes with care patients who need assistance. Its Japanese version, the Robear is shaped as a giant, gentle bear with a cartoonish head. They both can lift and move patients in and out of bed into a wheelchair, help patients to stand, and to turn them to prevent bed sores as many times as you want.

These robots not only promise to make up for the shortage of caregivers, but to save human personnel from having to carry out strenuous tasks, such as lifting patients out of bed 40 times a day.



7) Less than a millimeter sized Microbot delivers drugs through bloodstream

Remember the 1960s science fiction movie Fantastic Voyage, where a submarine and the people inside it were shrunk to microscopic dimensions and were injected into a person’s bloodstream? Now, reality has come one step closer to this scenario.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart have been experimenting with exceptionally micro-sized –meaning they are smaller than a millimeter – robots that literally swim through your bodily fluids and could be used to deliver drugs or other medical relief in a highly-targeted way. These scallop-like microbots are designed to swim through non-Newtonian fluids, like your bloodstream, around your lymphatic system, or across the slippery goo on the surface of your eyeballs.


8) Veebot draws blood in less than a minute


There is hardly any adult in the developed world who has never been the subject of a blood draw. Many have serious fears about it. On the one hand, it might be pretty scary that it is carried out with a needle. On the other hand, sometimes it takes a lot of time and more than one attempts until the nurse or the phlebotomist finds the appropriate vein to carry out the procedure. Veebot, a blood-drawing robot helps with the latter and allows for speeding up of the unpleasant experience.

With Veebot, the whole process takes about a minute, and tests show that it can correctly identify the best vein with approximately 83 per cent accuracy, which is about as good as an experienced human phlebotomist.



9) Cuddly animal-shaped PARO robot reduces stress for patients

It is widely known that pets and cute animals help to ease stress, to divert attention from pain and to reduce the feeling of loneliness. Unfortunately, not every hospital or extended care facility allows animals to live next to patients. AIST, a leading Japanese industrial automation pioneer offers a solution.

PARO is an advanced interactive robot developed by AIST. It allows the documented benefits of animal therapy to be administered to patients in medical environments in the shape of a baby harp seal covered with soft artificial fur to make people feel comfortable, as if they are touching a real animal. This therapeutic robot has been found to reduce the stress factor experienced both by patients and their caregivers.

Dr. Bertalan Mesko, The Medical Futurist, is a Healthcare Speaker, Author and consultant, physician, PhD in genomics and founder @ This article is reprinted with permission from his blog