The Medical-Robotics Revolution (Jonathan Shaw, Apr. 6th, 2022, Harvard Magazine)
What if a cardiac surgeon could operate on a beating heart without opening the patient’s chest? Or a flexible robot could navigate the delicate branching of blood vessels, or bronchi in the lungs, and then stiffen to perform surgery at its tip? Or a magnetic field could be engineered to drive a plaque-clearing robot inside a person’s arteries?
These kinds of innovations are already in the vanguard of the field of medical robotics, says professor of surgery Pierre Dupont, a leading designer of robotic systems for use in healthcare. “I thought of going into medicine instead of engineering,” he admits, “so when I had the chance to combine the two, it was a fantastic opportunity.” The field encompasses precision instruments that can be deployed by doctors inside the human body for visualization, diagnosis, and treatment, but also patient-focused inventions, from handheld devices that let diabetics control their blood sugar to wearable robots that help stroke patients walk again.
Not all these achievements will make it from the lab. But gradual trends are emerging: toward increasing autonomy for the robots themselves, and greater personalization for users, whether as patients or providers of healthcare.
Above average is over.