A Different Kind of Healthcare Robot


Industrial robots’ contribution to healthcare is most often seen in things like innovative pharmaceutical packaging. Robotics in healthcare tends toward the very small scale things like the da Vinci robotic surgery system, tools that help surgeons gain accuracy and lessen fatigue.

That might change, though. UCLA’s Orthopedic Biomechanics Laboratory has a fairly ordinary-looking industrial robot, the kind we expect to see building cars, doing some important work that will help orthopedic surgeons and doctors in the future.

Researchers install sensors in cadaver legs and then use the robot to apply huge amounts of pressure to the joints.

Hope you have already had your lunch.

The process allows researchers to simulate the kinds of situations in which knees get injured, in order to see exactly what kind of damage is being done.

U.S. doctors see 12 million knee injuries a year, and most of them are related to pressure on the knees. A 200 pound man walking on a flat trail at a leisurely pace puts 300 pounds of pressure on each knee. A pro football player may put 1,300 pounds of pressure on a knee before it gives out.

That’s hard to replicate in the lab, and very much not the kind of thing you want to do to a live human being. Robots are often used in factories and printing plants to do things that would be hard on a human, but there’s no point in having robots stand in for the patients in these cases.

There’s a lot of value in having a robot apply the pressure to the joints, though. This is a very good example of a situation in which a robot is a much better choice than a human.

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