Since ancient times, humans have wanted to recreate their own nature in an artificial way. The creation of machines in human form has been a constant in many civilizations for the purpose of proving ingenuity or amusement, but basically, the intelligent minds of the men of the past sought help in improving mechanical works that involved force and repetition.
The creation of a human similarity in a machine , or an automaton, involves the reproduction of human movements and abilities with exactitude. Proof of this is the automaton created in London, approximately in the year 1900, by Henri Maillardet, a Swiss manufacturer of watches and other mechanisms that “gave life” to a machine, a draftsman who was able to reproduce drawings and writing in the form of verses.
Later, with the advancement of technology, artificial mechanical components have been created to be implanted in the human body, supplanting its own shortcomings.
The field of robotics applied to medicine transforms the vision of the robot, which changes from being an inanimate mechanical piece to something capable of helping a human being in his health. In this way, he becomes something similar to an altruistic being, with human values.
How might robotics be necessary in medicine? Here are some examples. The common part of all of them is that robotics can manage to go where the human being cannot because of his own limitations.
Robotics in surgical operations
In surgery, the technological advances that have occurred since the beginning of the 21st century have led to a decrease in the invasion of surgical operations, in addition to facilitating the task of surgeons. Some of the benefits are:
- Laparoscopic surgery , minimally invasive, gallbladder removal operation and also in cardiology.
- Trauma surgery , guided by images.
- Robotic system for hip and knee operations.
More and more we are witnessing progress in the field of health, but we still do not have definitive solutions in the event of physical alterations due to having suffered an illness or amputations as a result of an accident. Progress is being made in the investigation of robotic prostheses that can, in many cases, carry out the substitute functions of any part of our body that has been damaged.
A robotic prosthesis is an autonomous and intelligent piece that, through sensors, processors and complex control processes, is capable of performing a functional body action. Today there is research that is giving optimal results:
- Wireless energy within the body.
- Artificial limb musculature (made with soft materials that repeat movements identical to the original).
- Motor mini-robots in surgery (capable of moving through the arteries).
- Flexible transistors around tissues.
- Chips prepared for neuron repair.
- Synthetic esophagus.
- Contact lenses for measuring glucose.
- Bionic eye and ear.
- Artificial exoskeletons.
It is a great challenge, which requires enormous effort, to design and put into practice the efficiency of a new prosthesis. That is why important companies, such as Telefónica, promote from their foundations the knowledge of robotics in classrooms with national programs and competitions that promote knowledge and research in this field.
Another example is the SCIENTIA Foundation, which also promotes the involvement of young people in robotics with the annual First Lego League national competition , an event that is considered the largest meeting of science, robotics and values in Spanish territory. It consists of a program for students between the ages of 10 and 16 in which, in a playful way, they participate and learn in direct contact with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
In line with robotic prostheses, we highlight the participation in the First Lego League (in which it achieved the seventh best position in the final with 56 participating teams this year) of La Farga de Sant Cugat school, with its WaWot robotics team , a group made up of 11 4th ESO students.
The challenge for this year’s participants was to be able to identify a human physical or social problem during a long-term space exploration. The WaWot team designed an electrostimulatory shirt that would help prevent muscle problems in astronauts and, for those of us on Earth, help treat muscle conditions in the back . This shirt consists of two layers. The first, the one that is in contact with the skin, has electrodes connected to a base plate by means of a conductive tissue and the rest is made of a non-conductive tissue. The second layer is the outer layer, made of an insulating and elastic fabric.
This project has been supported by medical professionals such as the Department of Rheumatology at Hospital del Mar and various professors of medicine and electronic engineering at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. The MGS Foundation has sponsored the participation of the WaWot team in the First Lego League competition .
There is still a long way to go in the field of robotics, but the implication is basic to continue researching for the benefit of society, with the aim of making technology as human as possible .