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Research

Overview


The health of the population is key concern for any society.  However the populations in many societies are ageing. By 2050, a quarter of Australia’s population will be over 65 and this has significant economic costs.  Firstly, the dependency ratio increases, meaning fewer working people to carry the burden of work in society, including caring for those no longer working. Secondly, the cost of healthcare increases and will at some point become unsustainable for national budgets.

Healthy independent living describes how people can continue to live at home, even if they require some medical assistance. The key to independent living is access to affordable assistive technology, that is, devices or systems that provide practical solutions to everyday activities. This is an area where robotics is already having an impact with the development of exoskeletons, care assistants, communications devices, and devices to improve mobility. As well as reducing the costs of healthcare, caring for one’s self preserves a sense of dignity and freedom.

Hospital based healthcare costs can be reduced by the introduction of various automation systems, bringing all the advantages that automation has brought to other sectors: increased productivity, higher quality and removing workers from injurious work. Hospital automation extends beyond surgery to cover areas such as internal logistics, patient handling, rehabilitation and care.

 

Projects


Robots in Hospitals


Ongoing

Jonathan Roberts, Ross Crawford, Anjali Jaiprakash, Ajay Pandey, Liao ‘Leo’ Wu

Hospitals globally have been slow to adopt robotics and artificial intelligence into patient care, although both have been widely used and tested in other industries. Medicine has traditionally been slow to change, as safety is at its core. Financial pressures will inevitably force industry and governments to recognise that when robots can do something better and for the same price as humans, the robot way will be the only way. What some hospitals have done in the past 10 years is recognise the potential to be more factory-like, and hence more efficient. The term “focused factories” has been used to describe some of these new hospitals that specialise in a few key procedures and that organise the workflow in a more streamlined and industrial way. They have even tried “lean processing” methods borrowed from the car manufacturing industry. One idea is to free up the humans in hospitals so that they can carry out more complex cases. Some people are nervous about turning hospitals into factories. There are fears that “lean” means cutting money and hence employment. But if the motivation for going lean is to do more with the same, then it is likely that employment will change rather than reduce. Medicine has long been segmented into many specialised fields but the doctor has been expected to travel with the patient through the full treatment pathway. A surgeon, for example, is expected to be compassionate, and good at many tasks, such as diagnosing, interpreting tests, such as X-rays and MRIs, performing a procedure and post-operative care. As in numerous other industries, new technology will be one of the drivers that will change this traditional method of delivery. We can see that one day, each of the stages of care through the hospital could be largely achieved by a computer, machine or robot. Many components of the future robot-factory hospital already exist. We are simply waiting for them to be tested enough to satisfy us all that they can be used safely. There are programs to make diagnoses based on a series of questions, and algorithms inform many treatments used now by doctors. Surgeons are already using robots in the operating theatre to assist with surgery. Currently, the surgeon remains in control with the machine being more of a slave than a master. As the machines improve, it will be possible for a trained technician to oversee the surgery and ultimately for the robot to be fully in charge. Hospitals will be very different places in 20 years. Beds will be able to move autonomously transporting patients from the emergency room to the operating theatre, via X-ray if needed. Triage will be done with the assistance of an AI device. Many decisions on treatment will be made with the assistance of, or by, intelligent machines. Your medical information, including medications, will be read from a chip under your skin or in your phone. No more waiting for medical records or chasing information when an unconscious patient presents to the emergency room. Robots will be able to dispense medication safely and rehabilitation will be robotically assisted. Only our imaginations can limit how health care will be delivered. Source: Extracts from an article "Robots in health care could lead to a doctorless hospital" in The Conversation written by Anjali Jaiprakash, Jonathan Roberts and Ross Crawford.

jonathan.roberts@qut.edu.au

New Class of Medical Robotics to Make Keyhole Surgery Safer


2017 -

Ross Crawford, Jonathan Roberts, Anjali Jaiprakash, Ajay Pandey, Liao ‘Leo’ Wu, Gustavo Carneiro

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and researchers from the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision are leading an international collaboration that has just received a $996,000 Australia-India Strategic Research Fund grant from the Australian Government. Project leader and renowned orthopaedic surgeon Professor Ross Crawford said the new robotic imaging system will allow surgeons for the first time to track the position of soft tissue in real time and in 3D. “Patients recover from keyhole surgeries more quickly than open surgeries because the surgery is minimally invasive,” said Professor Crawford, from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision. “However, keyhole surgeries are very complex for surgeons to learn and perform due to the sheer difficultly in seeing into and navigating their instruments through the tiny spaces inside the body. Even experienced surgeons can cause complications to patients when performing these procedures. “The robotic imaging system we’re building will vastly improve both visualisation and access issues, making keyhole surgery more accurate than ever before. “But it’s the patients throughout the world who will be the biggest beneficiaries, through better outcomes and access to healthcare.” Professor Crawford said, unlike current medical imaging tools which can only track the position of bone and medical tools, the new system will combine state-of-the-art miniaturised stereo cameras, 4D ultrasound sensing and artificial intelligence. This will give the surgeon an accurate, real-time 3D model of the surgical site, and one that tracks the position of soft tissue like tendons and ligaments as well as bone and medical tools. “Combining vision and ultrasound can provide us with vastly more information that we can use to identify and differentiate the objects within the surgical site,” Professor Crawford said. “Working with a dynamic 3D model rather than a flat image on a screen is also a real game changer in terms of accuracy in keyhole surgeries – it will give the surgeon precise knowledge of how deep the objects in the surgical site really are. “We’re building the system for knee arthroscopy surgeries first but we’re confident this is a system that can be easily adapted for other surgeries – hip, shoulder, abdominal, heart.” QUT will partner with researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, All India Institute of Medical Sciences-Delhi, University of Adelaide and Perfint Healthcare, in collaboration with Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur and Manipal University, to develop the robotic medical imaging system. Professor Crawford said the project reflected QUT’s focus on advancing medical robotics.

ross.crawford@roboticvision.org

Pepper Project – Vision applied to Humanoid Robotics


1st May 2017 to 1st May 2019

Belinda Ward, Sue Keay

Centre Chief Operating Officer, Dr Sue Keay and Project Leader Belinda Ward have successfully secured $1.5 million from the Queensland Government for a humanoid robotics project using Softbank's Pepper robot. ST Solutions Australia (STSA), a subsidiary of SoftBank Corp. has joined The Precinct, Queensland's innovation and startup centre located in Fortitude Valley. The QUT Research Project, based in our Centre, will explore the vision capabilities of SoftBank's Pepper Robot and aims to apply the latest developments in Robotic Vision to Pepper and engage researchers from a variety of disciplines to design and develop applications to assess the impact of social robotics. Created by SoftBank Robotics, Pepper is the world’s first personal humanoid robot that can recognise emotions. It also mimics human behaviours such as following the conversation around it by looking at whomever is talking. Project Leader Belinda Ward said social robots like Pepper have real potential to change society. “The degree to which social robots could change society is the basis of our new research program,” said Ms Ward, from the Science and Engineering Faculty and Australian Centre for Robotic Vision. “Pepper is probably the most ‘personable’ robot on the market in terms of its perceived emotional intelligence, which makes it a fantastic platform to investigate the suitability of social robots, which is still a very new field. What we learn from human-computer interactions with Pepper will inform the next generation of service robots, building an effective social component into their task-oriented programming.” The $1.5 million social robotics research program is funded by the State Government’s Advance Queensland initiative and will involve collaboration with ST Solutions Australia (STSA), SoftBank Corp’s subsidiary, and the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision. Ms Ward said the funding would allow her team to explore the different applications of these robots across a range of settings and conditions, and their effectiveness in each. “While a social robot in every home is probably a long way off for society, I see a place for social robots supporting human staff in every hospital, aged care facility and classroom, as companions and helpers – and there are no doubt many more settings we haven’t even considered yet. “Would a shy child in a classroom be more willing to ask a question of the robot rather than the class? Would a nursing home resident enjoy reminiscing about their past to a robot? Would a hospital patient feel comfortable chatting with a robot as it tidied their room?” Ms Ward said. Ms Ward’s team will also work with STSA to improve Pepper’s vision and navigation systems, making the robot even more versatile in the future.

br.ward@qut.edu.au

Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
2 George Street Brisbane, 4001
+61 7 3138 7549