If you come across someone in the future who says they have a tiny robot in their body that they consumed as a pill that is now helping them cure a certain disease, don’t think they’re kidding. In May 2023, a class of tiny, self-propelled robots were designed in the United States that can slip into a human body and may one day deliver prescribed drugs to hard-to-reach parts of the body. The team of developers at the University of Colorado Boulder aims to make the robot fully biodegradable one day, so that it eventually would dissolve in the body.
The future of medical robotics is here to stay and grow with the advancements in medical science. The global demand for robotics in the medical sector is growing rapidly owing to its benefits and is set to cross market size of $17.5 billion by 2026. 1
Medical robotics encompasses a wide range of applications, the most common of which include surgical robots, medication delivery robots, patient monitoring robots, rehabilitation robots, and diagnostic robots, etc. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), by 2022, there were around 15,000 active medical robots working in different sectors of medicine.
Medical robots are transforming the healthcare industry by performing tedious administrative tasks, streamlining medical supplies, performing critical surgeries, and even more.
Robots for Minimizing Infections, Maximizing Safety
More than a million hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) occur just in the U.S. healthcare system every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that these infections can be so severe that can also lead to mortality. 2
HAIs occur when hospitals can’t clean their spaces with 100 percent sterility. To disinfect hospitals and other medical surroundings in less time and with high accuracy, robots are being used.
One such robot is Xenex Germ-Zapping Solution. This is an automated robot that disinfects entire hospital rooms in much less time using UV rays and is capable of deactivating 99.99 percent of SARS-CoV-2, 95 percent of Clostridium difficile spores (CDS), and 100 percent of Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus (VRE) in the environment.
In addition to disinfecting surfaces, hospitals can now track any infections around with the world’s first-ever disinfection tracking system — Trackmate, which was launched by Xenex in June 2023.
Surgical Robots to Improve Patient Recovery Times
A patient usually takes 5–7days to recover from a colon surgery, but a robotic colon surgery allows the patient to shorten the length of stay in the hospital from five days to just one or two days. Such improved recovery times can be attributed to smaller incisions, greater focus, and clearer and magnified pictures that are obtained by surgical robots, like Da Vinci surgical systems.
This system performs a variety of minimally invasive surgeries, such as heart valve replacement, laparoscopic surgeries, prostate cancer surgeries, and more. Procedures with da Vinci system are proven to save time and costs and reduce probable contamination risks.
According to Intuitive Surgical — the manufacturer of da Vinci systems, as of March 2023, there were 7,779 da Vinci Surgical systems installed across the globe. Crossing a 12 million mark, da Vinci procedures rose approximately by 26 percent, compared to the first quarter of 2022, the group claims.
Other robotic surgical solutions such as Medtronic’s Hugo RAS system, J&J MedTech’s Zimmer Robotic platform, and Biomet’s Rosa robots, etc. are now being used in different medical surgeries.
Robot — A Stress Buster, a Friend, and More
When in stress, think of your pet moving around you, wagging its tail, with a smile on its face. Isn’t it a comforting and uplifting moment? How about talking to your friend for a while to relieve stress? Or think about a companion who supports you while you recover from an injury.
Robots now are being programmed and used to give emotional and physical support to humans. Just like pets have a unique way of providing emotional support, so do some therapeutic robots like PARO robot.
PARO is equipped with light sensors, audition sensors, temperature sensors, tactile sensors, and posture sensors, with which it can observe people and environment. The seal-like-robot can wiggle its flippers, blink its eyes, make funny noises, and even naps for its owner’s comfort.
PARO robot was specially created for elderly patients with dementia and other such complex cognitive disorders and has been proven to reduce stress as it yields benefits of animal therapy. Every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are nearly 10 million new cases of dementia. 3
There are rehabilitation robots for patients recovering from lost abilities or trying to regain their bodily control after any injury or surgery. These robots also depend on sensors to detect patient’s skin, activities, and movements.
Burt Robot, a rehabilitation robot, is widely used to support patients with nerves weakness, paralysis in hands/ arms, strokes, brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease, etc. This robot works along with the therapists when attached to patient’s forearm. The Ekso Bionic suit, another kind of rehabilitation robot, is an exoskeleton designed to help patients with walking disabilities.
Robotic Radiotherapy to Reduce Recovery Times of Cancer Patients
The American Cancer Society estimates that, the global cancer burden will reach ~28 million new cancer cases and 16.2 million cancer deaths by 2040, straining people and health systems. 4
Such a growing number of cancer cases emphasizes the urgent need for quick, effective, and precise cancer treatment solutions. CyberKnife, an image-guided robotic system is one such solution that was specifically designed to deliver radiation doses precisely and with high accuracy in cancer patients.
Benefits offered by robotic surgeries like smaller incisions, less scarring, reduced pain, and blood loss, along with adaptive delivery of a radiation beam to the tumor tend to be the most pronounced in complex cancer surgeries.
The CyberKnife noninvasive radiation technique delivers a high dose in a small volume with real-time adaptive delivery of the radiation beam that reduces probable side effects, thus increasing the survival rates of patients. CyberKnife treatment can be completed in just 4–5 sessions over 1–2 weeks, while conventional radiation therapies take up to 30–40 sessions consuming over 8–10 weeks’ time.
Several analyses demonstrate that low-to-intermediate-risk prostate cancer patients had five-year survival rates of >97 percent after being treated with CyberKnife, the fully robotic radiotherapy device. Moreover, robotic arms used in such surgical systems make it possible to easily access and deliver radiation to hard-to-reach places of the body such as spine, brain, and lung.
Robots for Transporting Things and Medicines
Hospitals are no less than hives of activities. While hospitals keep the staff busy in doing routine tasks, robots come to ferry supplies across hospitals, freeing the medical staff from heavy physical loads, and multiple trips to and fro.
Transporting meals, linens, lab specimens, and other medical supplies in a 200-bed hospital covers approximately 53 miles a day, states Aethon, a provider of intralogistics automation through its autonomous mobile robot platform, including TUG. TUG robots in healthcare perform the delivery and transportation tasks with a payload capacity of up to 1,400 lbs. (635 kg). These robots work remotely while effectively identifying potential problems before they become actual problems.
Medical Robotics — Present and Future
Advancements in technology and connectivity have created numerous possibilities for robotics in the medical sector, revolutionizing healthcare in several ways. Doctors are now performing long-distance operations with the help of a robot and 5G connectivity. A surgeon in China performed world’s first remote operation in 2019, using 5G technology where robotic arms were used to operate on a patient located 30 miles away.
In February 2023, the first ever ultra-long-distance gallbladder removal surgery was conducted through the same technology in China. With the help of a 5G-powered robot, a hospital in Zhejiang, China successfully removed a gallbladder from a patient located in an area where medical resources are still lacking, which is some 4,650 km (2889 miles) away.
Yet another breakthrough in medical robotics came when two babies were born as a result of robotic fertilization in May 2023. A Spanish start-up used a sperm-injecting robot and successfully fertilized human eggs.
These are just a few examples of the many ways that robotics are transforming the medical sector. As the technology develops, we can expect to see even more innovative applications in the coming years. But these developments are not without obstacles.
Lack of patient’s trust and lack of skilled professionals to handle innovative robotics are a few potholes on the road to widespread adoption of robotics in medical sector. However, a few innovations like communicating and interacting robots, collaborative robots (cobots), and so on will slowly win patient’s trust on medical robotics.
The healthcare industry also needs to encourage a greater number of healthcare professionals to pursue an education in robotics and become comfortable with such disruptive technologies. With some of these measures, the medical sector will surely surmount the challenges and will lead us to a future where medical robotics enable better patient outcomes, greater recovery rates, and accessible healthcare for all.
- “Global Medical Robotics Market Size, Share, Trend, Forecast, Competitive Analysis, and Growth Opportunity: 2023–2028,” Stratview Research.
- Health Topics — Healthcare-associated Infections (HAI), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- “Dementia,” World Health Organization.
- “Global Cancer Facts & Figures,” 4th edition, American Cancer Society.
This article was written by Ayush Bais, Media Representative for Stratview Research, Detroit, MI. For more information, contact him at