Medical robots, whether to be used for minimally invasive surgery (MIS), targeted therapy, emergency response, prosthetics or home assistance, represent one of the fastest growing sectors in the medical devices industry. One of the key areas of medical robotics is the development of surgical robots for MIS and microsurgery. Use of robots for surgery reduces the number of complications by 80% and also allows a significant reduction in the time for hospitalisation and a faster return to normal life. Surgical robotics remains a comparatively young yet rapidly expanding field, and the UK is well placed to be at the forefront of its research and development. With improved safety, efficacy and reduced costs, robotic platforms will soon approach a tipping point, moving beyond early adopters to become standard surgical practice. Other drivers for healthcare robots are the aging population and the increasing importance of quality-of-life, independence and autonomy for those with chronic illnesses and disabilities. WHO estimates that over a billion people live with some form of disability (WHO), of which between 110 million (2.2%) and 190 million (3.8%) people 15 years and older have significant difficulties in functioning. The rates of disability are increasing in part due to aging populations and an increase in chronic health conditions. For rehabilitation, robots are playing an increasing role to provide early support for faster and more complete recovery. The biggest hurdle to overcome for robotics in healthcare is how to make the technology cost effective and more accessible to the general population.

Key focus research areas:

  • miniaturised robots for MIS and targeted therapy with micro-instruments and smart actuators supported by new materials,
  • micro-fabrication and rapid prototyping technologies,
  • bioinspired and soft robotics,
  • self-assembled robots with integrated electronics, actuators and sensors embedded during production,
  • assisted robotics including home/personal use, nursing/caring, paramedical, social activation (for dementia and cognitive disabilities) and smart prostheses/ortheses.

Healthcare theme leads within the Network: