Healthy Living thanks to robotics – KUKA Innovation Award 2019
Healthy Living thanks to robotics – KUKA Innovation Award 2019
Interview with Dr. Rainer Bischoff, Vice President Corporate Research, Initiator and Jury Member of the KUKA Innovation Awards, and Axel Weber, Vice President Medical Robotics, KUKA
Improving technology transfer from research to industry and driving robotics development - that's the idea behind the KUKA Innovation Award. This year’s topic is "Healthy Living". Applicants from around the world were tasked with creating a robot application for healthcare settings. Now, the finalists, who will showcase their innovations at the MEDICA 2019 trade fair have been selected.
Dr. Rainer Bischoff, Vice President Corporate Research, Initiator and jury member of the KUKA Innovation Award at KUKA
In this MEDICA-tradefair.com interview, Dr. Rainer Bischoff and Axel Weber from KUKA introduce the five finalists and describe what makes them so unique, and explain where robots can be used in medical technology.
Who are the five finalists of this year's KUKA Innovation Award?
Dr. Rainer Bischoff: This year, we have five outstanding finalists, whose innovative ideas are on the cusp of commercialization. One startup is from France. Capsix Robotics has developed an interactive robot for personalized massages. We were intrigued by how the developers achieved their objective. They created a body model where the robot can generate the tracks and adjust the force accordingly. A 3D camera system assesses the patient, enabling parameterization of the body model and subsequently the tracks and forces.
Team Capsix from France
The LaserNAVI team from Portugal focused on a solution to treat vascular lesions. Usually, this procedure is done with a laser, which requires a lot of skill and precision. A robot is able to achieve this level of precision with repeated accuracy. This application uses image processing to detect the affected veins and guide the robot to the targeted area. What’s more, the robot can also collect, analyze and process the data pertaining to the affected blood vessel.
The RoboFORCE team from England aims to improve colorectal cancer screening and treatment. What makes this system so exciting is that it is a minimally invasive procedure. A magnetic capsule navigates through the bowel using a magnetic field. The tool is pulled versus pushed, making it easier to navigate around the loops and twists. This also makes the procedure less painful for the patient.
Team LaserNAVI from Portugal
The iRONNA team centers on neurosurgery. This type of surgery requires the patient's head to be measured and positioned very accurately to allow the robot to drill and cut precise holes. The researchers from Croatia are developing a robotic system to support neurosurgeons during surgical planning and the preoperative phase.
The German RobUST team from the Technical University of Munich is developing a robot-assisted ultrasound spine treatment. The application focuses on the treatment of microfractures via insertion of a needle into the spine. Needless to say, this requires the utmost precision, which makes the robot the perfect tool for this purpose. The surgeon also wears AR glasses and is instructed on where he/she has to operate.
Exhibitors and products
The five final teams of the KUKA Innovation Award deal with robotics for different medical fields. Discover related products and exhibitors on these topics in the MEDICA 2019 catalogue:
What criteria did you use to select the finalists? Is there a unique selling proposition?
Bischoff: When we select the finalists, we predominantly consider the innovative potential, meaning the likelihood of ultimately implementing the processes. Our five finalists have already excelled at taking the first step from research prototype to production. Some of them are also about to embark on clinical trials - or have already done so to some extent. After all, that is the basic requirement for the technology to be brought to market as it relates to a medical and healthcare setting. Our award selection criteria are expertise, clinical feasibility, and the technology's potential. In the case of the latter, we also assess whether the technology's use can be expanded beyond the medical application.
Axel Weber, Vice President Medical Robotics at KUKA
The finalists receive a KUKA LBR Med lightweight medical robot. Why is this robot particularly suited to carry out these projects?
Bischoff: Our lightweight robot is a device that is truly one of a kind. It features seven axes to where it resembles a human arm. What's more, every axis has a torque sensor. This makes it highly sensitive and allows for greater control, which is especially important for our research partners and notably relevant in medical technology.
Axel Weber: The medical technology industry relies on KUKA's strong technology, which has been tested by our major clients worldwide. Our lightweight robot has been adapted to cater to medical settings. In collaboration with the accredited VDE Testing and Certification Institute, we have modified our industrial component to meet the stringent medical standards and adapted the software and hardware. The VDE then issued a certificate to attest that our robot is in compliance with the standards. Thanks to this certificate, it is very easy for our clients to obtain certification for their device since the robot already meets the required criteria and standards for use in the medical technology arena. This saves our clients time and money, which they don’t have to spend on acquiring knowledge pertaining to this process.
Team iRONNA from Croatia
How do you collaborate with the project teams? Do you only provide the technologies or do you also have an advisory function?
Bischoff: The advisory function and consulting support is very important to us. We have hosted this competition since 2014 and are experienced in working with the final teams for more than half a year. We first offer training for the teams to familiarize them with our hardware, control software and safety aspects. Aside from the robot, teams can optionally integrate a 3D camera system, which we also provide. We offer training courses for the camera as well. We coach the teams throughout the competition. They are very competitive and the idea is to encourage them to do their absolute best and deliver a top performance. After all, they have to be able to showcase their designs at the MEDICA trade fair for four consecutive days. It goes without saying that this challenging for student or university teams who are not used to this type of setting.
Team RobUST from Germany
Will robots soon take over all human tasks?
Weber: That's not happening in the foreseeable future. Besides, it's not at our goal. Our objective is to support and assist human beings. We are making great progress in supporting physicians or therapists with robotic systems, enabling them to deliver great personalized patient care. Right now, robotics is still not very prevalent in medical settings. It simply takes time for new technologies to develop and flourish. Although robots are becoming ever more capable, efficient, precise and increasingly useful in medical and healthcare settings, the field is simply very complex and multifaceted. Each human being is unique, which is why process standardization is not as easy as it is in the automotive industry. To do justice to individuality, we need more sensor technology and intelligent data processing, which have to be advanced and reliable.
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