Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada unveiled a humanoid robot that can measure blood pressure by touching a patient’s chest. The robot uses sensors on its fingertips to perform the measurements. Inspired by blood-sucking leeches, the dry electrode sensors infer blood pressure by combining electrocardiogram (ECG) and photoplethysmogram (PPG) readings, although happily, they don’t suck blood. The Canadian team hopes that the technology could help in automating routine medical procedures, and also provide a measure of safety for patients and healthcare staff by reducing in-person interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assigning routine medical tasks, such as measuring blood pressure, to robots sounds like an attractive way for overburdened healthcare systems to free up healthcare workers for more complex and demanding jobs. This new technology is a step in that direction, and the robot in question can measure blood pressure by simply touching a patient’s chest, thanks to the unique fingertip sensors it possesses. The sensors share unusual design inspirations, combining the ancient art of origami with bioinspiration in the form of a blood-sucking parasite, the leech.
“Our origami-inspired dry electrode has unique characteristics such as suction for grasping and foldability inspired by nature,” said Tae-Ho Kim, a researcher involved in the study. “In keeping with nature, we saw that in addition to the complex mechanisms of a leech’s adhesive feature, these creatures have an expandable posterior sucker and body, while its organs expand and shrink appropriately to maintain better adhesion to its victim. Incorporating this point of view, we found that origami can achieve similar motions and also be customized.”
After placing its sensors on a patient’s chest, the robot obtains ECG and PPG readings, and then uses algorithms to infer diastolic and systolic blood pressure. The researchers hope that such humanoid robots could help automate blood pressure measurements in clinics, and potentially they could prove useful for health monitoring of elderly people in special care facilities.
“Blood pressure monitoring is an essential medical diagnostic tool for many chronic diseases and overall good health. The use of sensing robots in medical healthcare systems has substantial advantages because they can assist health care workers in monitoring patient vital signs while creating a friendly environment for those patients who may need to be isolated,” said Kim. “Robotics offers a promising method to mitigate risk and improve patient care effectiveness and quality as focused remote healthcare technology.”
See a video of the technology below.
Study in NPJ Flexible Electronics: 3D printed leech-inspired origami dry electrodes for electrophysiology sensing robots