Are you ready for robot doctors?

  • TECH
  • Saturday, 10 Jun 2017

Are you ready to see robots among your surgical team?

According to a new study from German carmaker Porsche's consulting arm the majority of German consumers are, and in many case would be happy to undergo an operation conducted by a machine rather than a human surgeon. 

In fact, just 23% of German respondents said, when asked, that they would totally reject the idea of a medical robot carrying out a procedure.

As for the 77% who are already prepared for the day that the operating theater looks more like a car production facility, only 41% of that number put a caveat in place – they would be happy to undergo a procedure if the use of a robot resulted in a lower associated risk.

But as well as for performing potentially life-saving surgeries, German consumers are warming to the idea of robots helping to prolong their life, health and independence – 56% would be prepared to receive caregiving services via machines. This, according to Porsche's research is because, in Germany at least, people can already see the benefits that automation could bring to their quality of life.

For example, 36% of respondents would welcome a robot carer into their homes if it meant that they would be able to stay at home rather than move into a facility. Likewise, a robot never sleeps and so 29% see them as a cost-effective way of receiving round-the-clock care and 21% as a cheaper alternative to staff on rotas working shifts.

And while 41% of the 1000 people polled rejected the concept of robot caregivers, 37% recognise that machines and devices designed to help people in and out of bed or to aid them in preparing meals or keeping track of their medication would allow doctors and nurses the freedom they need to focus their talents and abilities where they are really needed.

"Advanced developments in medical technology have been helping to treat and care for people for a long time now," said Dr. Roman Hipp, a partner at Porsche Consulting in charge of the healthcare sector. "Within three to five years, digitisation will have reached a point where robots could assume a wide range of tasks in medicine and caregiving."

In Japan, Toyota is already investing heavily in automated systems and robots that could one day help care for the country's aging population. By 2060, over 40% of the country's population will be aged 65 or over and Japan will not be able to offer long-care care on such a scale. Its latest innovation in this area is the HSR (Human Support Robot) which has been undergoing testing in hospitals since 2012 but could one day share a home with a patient, helping them in and out of bed, picking items up from the floor and fetching food from the kitchen.

However, Toyota is focusing much of its efforts on design, the company quite rightly fears that a robot can seem intimidating to many. But even here, things could be about to change. Chris Bangle, the former head of design at BMW, believes that the automotive design community has the answer and that when vehicles become driverless pods, that his colleagues should turn their attention to robotics.

"Car design is unique in that its expertise lies in creating character and personality in physical objects," he explains, pointing out that a man-sized robot with 50 horsepower could be like living with the Terminator as your caregiver. "But car designers routinely create 500hp cars that are not unapproachable at all – indeed people love to run their hands over them. They are abstract sculpture. When will the robotics world pick up on the idea car designers can be of great help there as well?" AFP Relaxnews

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