When people think of the application of robotics, they often think about warehouses or manufacturing lines, where they automate a number of processes around moving boxes from the shelves to the loading dock.
But robotics also has the potential to reshape the way healthcare is delivered in a variety of applications and locales – and while we’re a long way from a robot replacing a physician (and not sure we’d want that), there are many opportunities to provide automation in the healthcare arena that can reduce costs and free up healthcare workers’ time to focus more on patient care.
According to Research and Markets, global medical robotics market is expected to grow to over $20 Billion by 2022 from an estimated $6.36B in 2016, which represents a 21.6 CAGR. This growth will be fueled by the growth and utilization of automation technologies, along with the rising incidence of disabilities in people and associated developments in assisted physical robotics based aids (e.g, exoskeletons, powered prosthetics, etc.).
Here are some of the current and future areas where the intersection of robotics and medical devices promises to play a significant role in improving care and reducing costs:
Reducing human error and providing a more precise set of tools for the most complicated surgeries, the market for surgical robots is expected to be one of the fastest growing markets for healthcare related robots. Companies such as: Intuitive Surgical (an Acorn customer), Medrobotics, Verb Surgical, Hansen Medical, MEDTECH, Titan Medical, Microbot Medical, Accuray, and others are offering or developing a variety of specialized robots to assist in the surgical suite.
Automating the delivery of drugs, medications/supplies in a hospital/nursing home setting can free up workers time, allowing them focus more on the patient vs. paperwork, etc.. Companies involved in this area include: Aethon, Innovation Associates, Omnicell (an Acorn client), Vecna Technologies.
One of the more exciting areas of development are robotic devices, Exoskeletons, than can assist people with disabilities become more mobile and live more normal lives. This not only reduces the cost of care, but can dramatically improve the quality of life for the patients. Companies involved in Exoskeleton development include Ekso Bionics (an Acorn customer), Barrett Medical, Cyberdyne, Hocoma, Rewalk Robotics, and Reha Technology.
Providing healthcare to remote and rural areas of the world is one of the more global challenges. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a worldwide shortage of around 4.3 million physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Robots that provide telemedical devices that allow a physician to remotely interact, diagnose, and recommend treatment to patients will become more prevalent in clinics around the world. Companies in this space include: InTouch Health, iRobot, and Vecna Technologies.
No doubt there are others, with some that are likely in stealth mode. Acorn is working on projects in this space that we can’t disclose, but suffice to say we’re very excited to be part of this exciting and important trend.
Ken Haven has been CEO of Acorn Product Development since the company’s founding in 1993. Ken has more than 25 years of product development experience including technical leadership roles with NeXT Computer, Attain, Inc., and Hewlett-Packard. He holds MS and BS degrees in mechanical engineering from Cornell University.