In spite of the global pandemic, medical robotics companies haven’t stopped innovating.
Analysts predict the global healthcare robotics market will reach $30 billion by 2026.
Medical robots have been around for over two decades since the FDA first approved the da Vinci surgical system in 2000. However, medical robotics companies have introduced many new applications and enhancements since then, thanks to more recent technology such as artificial intelligence.
Here’s a look at some of the most exciting headlines so far this year.
What’s New For Medical Robotics Companies?
1. An AI-Powered Camera To Enhance Robotic-Assisted Surgery
Even with the most sophisticated medical robotics systems, success depends on surgeons’ ability to clearly see the surgical field. If their vision is obstructed, even routine surgery can lead to complications.
The FDA recently granted clearance to TransEnterix Surgical Inc to add vision-control technology to its Senhance robotic-assisted surgical system.
The system uses a camera powered by artificial intelligence, which can move automatically, recognize objects and respond to commands.
“The capabilities now cleared will be focused on optimizing visualization and camera control in ways never before offered in robotic or digital surgery,” said TransEnterix CEO Anthony Fernando in a recent Robot Report article. “These initial capabilities represent the first step in our journey to bring the benefits of augmented intelligence and machine vision to surgery.”
2. Enhancements to Robotic Exoskeleton Devices
Patients who have had a stroke or another serious medical episode often have a hard time learning to walk again. Ekso Bionics developed a robotic exoskeleton device that improves physical therapy for stroke patients.
More recently, it developed the EksoPulse platform, a cloud-based analytics solution that captures data from patients during therapy sessions, including the number of steps they take and how much assistance they need, and relays that information to the therapist. This helps physical therapists more easily measure patient progress and provide more targeted intervention.
Ekso Bionics recently received the distinction of Best Healthcare Robotics Company in this year’s MedTech Breakthrough Awards for its innovations.
3. Robots Designed To Combat The Spread Of Coronavirus
The threat of COVID-19 has led to greater innovation from medical robotics companies. Akara Robotics recently introduced Violet, a medical robot equipped with ultraviolet light designed to disinfect surfaces. The robot can sense when there are people present in a room and turn off its light to ensure their safety.
Meanwhile, Boston Dynamics designed a medical robot named Spot, which interviews suspected coronavirus patients and relays the information back to medical personnel.
This helps protect doctors and nurses while allowing them to focus more on patient care.
Artificial intelligence technology is also making these robots more effective by allowing them to analyze large quantities of data collected from coronavirus patients and recognize patterns.
4. Medical Robots With A Sense Of Touch
One of the biggest challenges with robotic-assisted surgery is that it’s difficult for surgeons to get a feel for the tissue on which they are operating. Forcen Inc., a medical robotics company based in Toronto, recently patented technology that adds “a digital sense of touch” to help surgeons operate with more precision.
These sensors can be applied to any surface, including gloves, to allow surgeons to “feel” even while they operate with robotic-assisted technology.
The technology is already being used along with the da Vinci robot and applications from several other medical robotics companies.
5. Telepresence Robots
This year, we’ve seen an expansion of the market for telepresence medical robots. The pandemic has brought telemedicine to the forefront, with its convenience appealing to both patients and physicians. Telepresence robots are designed to make telemedicine more user-friendly and bridge the gap between virtual and in-person visits.
These free-standing devices prop up iPads or include their own screens featuring high-resolution cameras and microphones. Several models include the ability to zoom in, tilt and move on their own while avoiding obstacles, giving patients a more realistic experience.
The Future of Medical Robotics
From robotic-assisted surgical technology to applications that deliver medical goods by drone, the future is bright for medical robotics companies. However, there are still risks to consider. The FDA has approved robotic-assisted surgical devices for certain procedures, such as hysterectomies, but not others, including mastectomies or cancer treatment.
Surgeons who use these devices also need proper training, which is not regulated by the FDA. Instead, the responsibility falls on device manufacturers and healthcare facilities.
While medical robotics companies continue to introduce new and exciting advancements, these applications are still subject to FDA approval. To evaluate any new robotic-assisted surgical application, for instance, the agency looks at whether the complication rate at 30 days is “clinically comparable to other surgical techniques.”
That means any company testing a medical robotic device may need to conduct new clinical trials or apply to the 510(k) program by demonstrating that the device is substantially similar to another already on the market. In the future, this could be more difficult for Class III (high risk) medical devices. The sponsor may also need to provide additional data to demonstrate effectiveness.
IMARC Research has helped dozens of medical device companies maintain compliance during clinical trials and ultimately earn approval. We are excited about the future of medical robotics and eager to support companies throughout their research, whether they need assistance with monitoring, auditing, data management or comprehensive project management. Learn more about how we can help.