Researchers of Michigan State University have developed a remotely controlled robotic arm equipped with a force-feedback (haptic) glove. Described in the September issue of Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry Magazine, the unit could be used in remote areas where doctors would not be readily available to perform exams.
Researchers at Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI) have devised a robot examiner that could be used for remote diagnosis or therapy. The robot arm combines ultrasound technology and video documentation with an artificial sense of touch.
To use, the operator wears a haptic glove, each finger of which connects to a motion-sensing device. The operator’s hand movements are measured and sent by computer to the robotic arm, which then mimics each of those moves. The robotic arm also measures the consistency of objects it touches. These tactile data are fed back to the operator.
“The arm, which actually looks like a hand, is equipped with sensors,” explains Carol Slomski, MD, chair of Michigan State’s department of surgery. Slomski, who also serves as codirector of the project, says that, “As the hand touches the patient, the sensation from this touch comes back into my hand [that’s wearing the glove]. When the robot fingers feel a lump or some other abnormality, I also feel it.”
In addition to the tactile assay, an ultrasound gives the physician another tool for diagnosis. “Having the capability of ultrasound and palpitation simultaneously is a major advantage,” says Ranjan Mukherjee, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan State. Mukherjee leads the team building the device.
Various other tactile exams could also obviously be performed with this system (a few male-specific ones come to mind). The question remains: is it more or less awkward to be “personally examined” by a robotic arm than a human?