'Open Source' Robotics Field Continues Rapid Growth

Robots are increasingly being used in the field of healthcare. So the announcement earlier this month about the formation of the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF) is of some interest to those of us working in this field. OSRF is an independent, non-profit organization founded by members of the global robotics community. Their mission is to support the development, distribution, and adoption of 'open source' software for use in robotics research, education, and product development.

Willow Garage is just one of the companies to take note of that helped found the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF). This company is composed of a team of experts in robot design, control, perception, and machine learning, with both a strong theoretical background and a demonstrated drive to produce practical systems. See http://www.willowgarage.com

One of the key open source robotics projects OSRF and Willow Garage sponsor and support is the Robot Operating System (ROS).  The ROS community web site provides libraries and tools to help software developers create robot applications. It provides hardware abstraction, device drivers, libraries, visualizers, message-passing, package management, and more. ROS is completely open source (BSD) and free for others to use, change and commercialize upon.  See http://www.ros.org/wiki/ 

Some of the other open source robotics software platforms for you to explore include the Modular Open Robots Simulation Engine (MORSE), Yet Another Robot Platform (YAR), Mission-Oriented Operating Suite (MOOS), Open RObot Control Software (OROCOS), and Universal Real-time Behavior Interface (URBI).

Robots in Healthcare

How does all this 'open' robotics activity relate to healthcare. In the 1980's, we saw the emergence of some of the first uses of robots in a healthcare setting. These were primarily restricted to robotic carts used to move mail, medical records, prescriptions, and laboratory specimens around a medical center.

In the 1990's, we saw the production and deployment of a limited array of stationary robotic devices used to package and dispense drugs. The decade also witnessed the emergence of the first robotic devices used by surgeons to perform selected procedures either on-site or via tele-surgery from remote locations, e.g. RoboDoc, Aesop 1000, Neuromate, da Vinci, and the Zeus surgical systems.

The first decade of the 21st century has seen more widespread deployment of robotic surgical systems for use in a growing range of complex surgical procedures. Robotic surgical assistants are now being used in quite a few operating rooms. Prototype robotic systems are also now being tested and used as robotic health aides, for remote bedside teleconsultations, personal care assistants for the elderly, and for many other purposes.

Some other examples of how robots are currently being used in health care include:

• Tele-surgery & Tele-Consultation
• Robot Assisted Care & Physical Therapy
• Robotic Prosthetic Devices
• Medical & Surgical Training Using Robotics
• Robotic Rescue & Disaster Recovery Systems
• Analysis, Research & Development

In the coming decade, extensive collaboration and use of 'open' solutions will result in the development of some truly innovative robotic devices for use in healthcare. Stay tuned.


Selected Links on Robots in Health Care

da Vinci Surgical System by Intuitive Surgical
InTouch Remote Presence Robots
International Journal of Medical Robotics & Computer Assisted Surgery
Journal of Robotic Surgery
McKesson's Robot-Rx
Medical Robotics Online Magazine & Blog
Robosoft  Assistive Care System