Daniel R. Swerdlow, medical director, Georgetown Radiology at MedStar Medical Center, discusses the im- plications of robotic arm artificial intelligence. He is the
corresponding author of “Robotic Arm–Assisted Sonography:
Review of Technical Developments and Potential Clinical
Applications” which appeared in the April issue of the AJR.
Coauthors include Kevin Cleary, Emmanuel Wilson, Bamshad
Azizi-Koutenaei, and Reza Monfaredi, all of Children's National
Health System, Washington, DC.
How did you become involved in this research?
Kevin Cleary, a coauthor and doctor of engineering, runs a lab
at Children’s National Medical Center. He received U.S. Army
funding to build a prototype of a robotic arm that could perform
ultrasounds and asked me to serve as the radiologist-consultant on
the team of engineers tasked with the project. The U.S. Army is
studying these robotic systems as an
alternative to placing skilled personnel in harm’s way on the battlefield.
As a result of the project, I became familiar with the work of others in this
field. I wanted to review the research
from the radiologist’s point of view, as
little has been written in the typical radiological literature.
What are some of the
advantages of a robotic
ultrasound arm system?
The robotic arm can be used
when skilled personnel are not available to perform ultrasounds. For example, small clinics and hospitals,
disaster triage areas, battlefields, or remote locations typically
lack trained personnel. Even when personnel are available, the
robotic arm can be used independently to hold the probe still
over the target during a procedure or perform a task that is difficult or cumbersome for the sonographer.
What are the technical requirements of a robotic
ultrasound arm system?
It must replicate the gross and fine motor control of the human upper extremity and have a range of motion that would allow
Advances in Robotics and Data
Transmission Offer Potential Clinical
examination of all four quadrants of the abdomen. It also must
have force limiters to avoid injuring a patient. This is called haptic feedback. The system should be capable of fine adjustments
and hold still without drifting. Ideally, it would allow probe
changes without human intervention.
Would a robotic ultrasound perform as well as an
ultrasound performed by a human?
According to research, both approaches are effective, yet
both have limitations. While medicine is probably decades away
from wide implementation of such robotic arms, it is reasonable
to assume that robots could enhance a radiologist’s or a technician’s ability to perform certain duties of the job. Robotic ultrasounds used in more typical clinical settings can reduce
repetitive physical stress on sonographers.
What are the most
important messages from
Robotic systems have been designed for abdominal, obstetric,
vascular intraoperative, and interventional applications. Existing
Internet and satellite links can
transmit instructions to the device
and return images to the master
site in near real time.
Many devices currently being
used and under development are
capable of generating the force,
torque, and range of motion
needed for typical ultrasound operations. Robotic systems have
shown utility during interventional procedures allowing for complex planes and freeing hands from performing ultrasound.n
Robotic ultrasounds used in more typical
clinical settings can reduce repetitive physical
stress on sonographers.