Robotics in healthcare: the late offspring of the stethoscope

Amazing results can be achieved when physicians use state-of-the-art technologies such as robotics or artificial intelligence when making a diagnosis and during therapy. Let’s see what you’ve got and where some top workshops are heading!

Modern medicine is unthinkable without the knowledge of engineers and the application of the results of technical research and development. There are many examples of doctors and engineers working on joint projects. The University of Pécs (PTE) – thanks to its wide range of education and research – is in such an exceptional situation that cooperation can be realized within the walls of the institution, but of course external partners are also involved in the work. Elsewhere, such as the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME), several health IT projects are also running; in these, medical expertise is typically brought in from outside.

Man Arm and ExoSkeleton

Under the auspices of the Faculty of Engineering and Informatics (MIK) of the University of Pécs, several developments are taking place in the direction of robotics. One of these is the Man Arm project. Under the auspices of the Faculty of General Medicine (MSc), MIK and the 3D Center, they are working on the implementation of an aesthetic, practical, partly plastic, myoelectric 3D printed hand. By now, they’ve gotten to the point where the prosthesis can be grabbed, placed away, lifted, put back on the table, or even poured from it.

– “Intelligent upper limb prostheses like this already exist in the world, but they typically require a series of movements that are uncomfortable and foreign to a person in order to operate the prosthesis effectively. Our tool, the Human Arm, is based on sensing and processing muscle signals. In our case, the patient has to perform the movements or think of the movements that he really wants to do with his hands. The system recognizes the muscle signals of the stump and practically teaches the robot hand how to respond to each command”, explains Géza Várady, MIK’s deputy scientific dean. With the improvements, they got to the working prototype. The next step is to agree on production with an investment company.

ExoSkeleton is also based on reading and processing muscle signals, which is typically not intended to help people with disabilities, but to facilitate hard physical work. It is a wearable version of the so-called cobots (cobot, collaborative robot) that falls into the category of Industry: by pulling on the ExoSkeleton like a garment, one can lift hundreds of kilograms and take them away without much physical effort. The sensors built into the cobot detect the movement of the wearer’s hands and feet, and the robot hand and robot foot move to this. ExoSkeleton also offers help for those whose limbs are difficult to move due to paralysis or other reasons, or who are missing due to an injury. Researchers at PTE are currently investigating the impact of ExoSkeleton in the rehabilitation process.

Movement Analysis

There is also a development at PTE that accurately tracks and analyzes patient movement, partly with the help of external monitoring devices and partly with wearable sensors. After analyzing the movement of the trunk and limbs, musculoskeletal disease can be diagnosed, with the knowledge of which the doctor prescribes personalized training. The system can also help monitor the performance of the exercises: the patient sees what movements he needs to perform while also tracking himself, his own movements on the screen. By recognizing the differences, you can correct your movement without outside help.

External monitoring is performed by space sensors. Data collection is followed by data processing (filtering, using human body models; production of ideal movements, etc.). The patient’s muscle signals are read by body-worn sensors built into special clothing. The main goal is to receive a live mass of data from the patient, to which the IT background, taking into account the data coming from the external sensors, can give an immediate relevant response.

Multiple knowledge in parallel

Thus, medical and engineering knowledge in the field of research and development is already successfully combined at PTE. Allow yourself to see this trend reflected in education.

– “In recent years, doctors have also enrolled in our IT correspondence trainings. They justify their appearance on the grounds that they need extra IT knowledge for their medical activities. In general, the use of software, data mining, processing and analysis, and image processing knowledge are what they consider essential to the successful performance of their work.

With the proliferation of artificial intelligence, the possibilities are further expanded: by analyzing image and text data, hidden problems can also be quickly revealed that the doctor may not notice at first glance. Modern medicine has clearly moved in the direction of IT problems and, more broadly, technical solutions. A good doctor should therefore also have some IT and / or other technical knowledge. But the reverse is also true: we need engineers who also have some medical and health knowledge. Recognizing this need and market pressure, we decided to launch a biomedical engineering master’s degree at PTE”, explains Géza Várady.

Ventilator development in a crisis situation

In mid-March, after hearing alarming news about Covid-19, the government asked BME to develop a large-batch ventilator at a rapid pace. Basically, the knowledge of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering (GPK) and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Informatics (VIK) was integrated into the work, and the researchers of BME consulted with external experts, mainly doctors.

After the foundations were laid and worked out, the functional development continued in two directions. Under the coordination of the mechanical team, in addition to the development of mechanical, mechatronic and pneumatic components, a machine based on PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) electronics was developed. The purpose of this variant was to provide an adequate amount of equipment in the early stages of the infection wave.

Colleagues from VIK designed custom electronics based on mechatronic, mechanical and pneumatic foundations, similar to the PLC version, and worked with microcontroller controllers. Electronics-based functions that control ventilation themselves have been developed. They designed and created a graphical user interface to communicate with the user, and designed and implemented a security monitor to monitor the reliable operation of the equipment. This work requires more time than the PLC version due to the complex hardware design requirement and the more complex programming capability, where the assembly of ready-to-buy PLC elements and the associated highly supported software functions help the development. However, equipment with custom electronics development allows more leeway in component selection, making it less vulnerable to potential procurement problems.

Small series production of the PLC version has already begun in early June. The version designed with custom electronics has reached the operational prototype. In the second phase of the development of the latter, the goal is to develop equipment that can be mass-produced from the prototype, ie robust, easy to assemble and service.

– “Fortunately, the epidemic situation did not turn out in the worst case scenario, so in the second phase of the project we had a little more time for the finer details of the development. The finished machine is significantly more knowledgeable than what was required in the original specification. It is suitable not only for saving lives, but also for providing gentle ventilation, so it effectively supports the regeneration of the lungs”, emphasizes university professor Tamás Dabóczi, head of the Department of Measurement Technology and Information Systems at VIK.

Clinical trials of the ventilators will be conducted in parallel in three hospitals.

BabyCTG with learning algorithm

In some cases, it can be tedious, and even risky, for mom and baby to travel to maternity for fetal heart sound tests. A obstetrician has found a theoretical solution to this problem: the pregnant woman has a CTG scan at her home – there are already suitable ultrasound sensors for this purpose – and then sends the measurement results to the doctor, who can even view it on her mobile phone and then evaluate it. data. The obstetrician asked the BUTE Department of Automation and Applied Informatics (AUT) to put his idea into practice.

– “We had to create a mobile phone application that can be connected to the device performing the test and guides the inexperienced expectant mother through the measurement point by point. This, being the life of the baby, is much more critical than instructions to use a plain program. On the fly, we realized that the work of the evaluating physician could be algorithmized. We have added a learning algorithm to the measurement results, thanks to which the doctor already receives filtered data. For example, you find out right away if someone is critical and so you can deal with the expectant mother immediately”, says Bertalan Forstner, an associate professor. The development was successfully completed by AutSoft Zrt., Created by AUT’s experts, after the live tests, more people are already using the application.

Transretina system

Special cameras can be used to take images of the fundus that can be used to easily and quickly detect signs of diabetic retinopathy. During a development, a solution was sought so that the doctor would not have to be present at the site of the examination, but would be able to make the diagnosis remotely.

In addition to the cameras, there was a need for a system that records patient data, reads it from the cameras, and stores the recordings and then sends them to the evaluating physicians. BME’s AUT team participated in the design and development of the special software solution. One of the biggest challenges in the work was GDPR compliance. The completed system has already been put into operation in the partner stores of Első Magyar Optikus Zrt., The data is sent to the doctors performing the evaluation at the Ophthalmology Clinic of Semmelweis University via a closed electronic system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.