Robot Doctor for Rural Australia

Deakin University launches their medical diagnosis robot for remote ultrasound procedures.

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Researchers at Deakin University have created a unique and innovative solution for patients who live in remote and rural areas.

Haptically controlled medical diagnosis robot

Developed by a team based in Geelong at the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI), the technology features 3D vision and is designed to deliver ultrasound diagnostics.

It allows the doctor or health professional to undertake an examination of a patient without having to be in the same room.

“They could be as far as 1,000km away from the ultrasound unit,” Deakin researchers explained, “or the equivalent of the distance between Melbourne and Sydney.”

Called HER (for haptically-enabled robotics), IISRI Director Professor Saeid Nahavandi explained that the science involved not only allows access to diagnostic tools to under-resourced regions but can minimise potential errors.

“Haptic feedback allows an operator to feel and experience the remote environment, through the robotic system,” he said, “as though they were interacting with it directly.”

Professor Nahavandi said the principal advantage of the HER technology was the fact that it had the ability to “translate the sense of touch to the operator.”

Built-in safety features ensure patient safety. For instance, HER’s programming does not allow the machine to exert pressure sufficient enough to bring discomfort to the subject.

Developed in partnership with Telstra, HER’s remote access is based on the internet.

Once online, patient and sonographer can interact in real-time using a communication interface where cameras and screens in each location allow the participants to talk to one another with ease.

Right now, HER is limited to being an ultrasound diagnostics imaging system meant to evaluate the vital organs in patient’s abdominal region like the spleen, kidney, and liver.

But its developers believe it could evolve into other health-related applications.

The basic platform makes it ideal for use in scenarios where the danger of infection or contamination for the greater population is high.

The technology has undergone a series of trials, where physicians in Melbourne have examined subjects in rural areas using a 4G wireless data link.

Now Telstra and Deakin’s researchers at IISRI say that HER is ready for market, and they are actively seeking partners in the global health tech sector as well as Australia’s health networks to roll it out.