The rapid development of technology over the past 15 years in connection with digitization and a steadily aging population are ensuring that medical robotics is developing to a strong growth market. Robotics and various assistance systems are already being used successfully in many medical fields, from diagnosis to treatment and rehabilitation. In the future, they will support doctors, surgeons, nursing and rehabilitation staff even more. With its many years of expertise, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) offers valuable support to companies in the medical and health sectors. The DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics operates a unique center of excellence for research of innovations in healthcare robotics, the MIRO Innovation Lab, and already has a broad spectrum of projects in medical robotics.
Currently, the MIRO Innovation Lab and VITA (Virtual Therapy Arm), a showcase system of DLR from rehabilitation, is being presented at the MedtecLIVE 2019 international trade fair for medical technology in Nuremberg.
Research platform and network for medical robotics
The MIRO Innovation Lab is a modern research platform and diverse cooperation network. Partners from science and industry can use the research platform to integrate their own technologies, to test innovations and to bring product ideas to marketability. In this way, the innovation laboratory aims to facilitate access to the promising medical robotics market, in particular for small and medium-sized companies.
“Our goal is to facilitate close collaboration between research, clinical partners and industry. Flexibility is important to us: We can integrate our partners’ technologies, test innovations and bring product ideas to marketability,” says Dr. Roland Unterhinninghofen, spokesperson for the MIRO Innovation Lab at the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics.
Medical robotics and assistance systems at DLR
“In the healthcare sector as well, DLR can rely on sophisticated robotic technology originally developed and verified for the use of astronauts in space,” says Prof. Albu-Schäffer, head of the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. The basic technology of our research work is the third generation MIRO medical robot. DLR’s MIRO is a lightweight robot arm optimized for medical applications that is kinematically redundant and fully torque-controlled. Its structure, size and flexibility are modeled on the human arm, so that it can be operated intuitively, sensitively and safely. During an operation, the surgeon can use one or more MIRO robots as a so-called MiroSurge system flexibly and modularly with a variety of special instruments. Thus, MIRO can be used in a variety of ways, such as for water-jet wound washing, robot-assisted endoscope guidance and minimally invasive surgery. The robot is programmed for both direct human-robot interaction and to perform precise, remote controlled or automated functions.
Medical robotics can also contribute know-how in rehabilitation. In the follow-up project VVITA (Validation by VITA), DLR scientists work with a virtual rehabilitation environment in which persons with impaired upper limbs can perform exercises. Muscle signals allow patients to fully functionally use their limbs in virtual reality in order to alleviate phantom pain. This is currently being tested by the VVITA project in a clinical study. A sophisticated machine learning system recognizes the intended movement.
MedtecLIVE 2019 will take place from May 21 to 23 in Nuremberg at the exhibition center. The booth of the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics is located in Hall 10 / Stand 317.
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