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From Massage to Surgery: How Robotics and AI Are Changing Medicine And Beauty by@dennisledenkof
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From Massage to Surgery: How Robotics and AI Are Changing Medicine And Beauty

by Dennis LedenkofMay 24th, 2023
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Robots based on AI technology are already helping nurses successfully with many daily tasks. They are equipped with voice and motion recognition, cameras, and microphones that collect data about a person. They then pass it on to artificial intelligence algorithms for processing, which allows robots to recognize not only physical injuries (for example, if patient has fallen out of bed), but even non-verbal signs of depression and anxiety.
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The lead image for this article was generated by HackerNoon's AI Image Generator via the prompt "robot plastic surgery"


Thanks to the constant development of artificial intelligence, robots are getting smarter before our eyes. From simple machines that can only do a strict set of programmed actions, they are turning into colleagues who know how to work alongside real people. As a result, they are becoming more widespread in such critical industries as healthcare: the global market for medical robots has grown from over $11 billion in 2022 to more than $13 billion in 2023 and is expected to reach nearly $26.5 billion as early as 2027, with a compound annual growth rate of almost 19%.


The development of computer vision, motion sensors, high-definition surgical microscopic cameras, remote navigation, analytics, and other solutions also contribute to this growth. Apart from technological advances, several other factors influence the market: an aging population and, consequently, the growing demand for various types of medical services, as well as increasing healthcare spending per capita.


Let's dig into three different industry use cases where AI and robotics are helping organizations cope with a labor shortage, meet regulatory needs, and achieve new technological advances.


Enabling nursing and rehab through robotic inclusion

The lack of healthcare workers was a severe problem even before the pandemic. The global market was short of 5.9 million nurses, with another 4 million expected to retire in the next ten years. COVID-19 exacerbated the situation and led to massive nurse burnout. This accelerated the exodus of people from the profession and increased the staff shortage to 13 million.


This image was generated by HackerNoon's AI Image Generator via the prompt "a tired nurse".


Robotics can help the industry combat this problem and make life easier for nurses. The global market for robotic nursing assistants was estimated at $1 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of nearly 15% from 2023 to 2030. According to a WHO report, demand is driven, among other things, by an aging population that needs more care: one in six people will be 60 or older by 2030.


And from 2020 to 2050, the number of older people will double to 4.1 billion.


Robots based on AI technology are already helping nurses successfully with many daily tasks: for instance, recording patients' medical conditions and delivering food and medicine. They are equipped with voice and motion recognition, cameras, and microphones that collect data about a person. They then pass it on to artificial intelligence algorithms for processing, which allows robots to recognize not only physical injuries (for example, if a patient has fallen out of bed), but even non-verbal signs of depression and anxiety. Some robots have a semblance of emotional intelligence and can work as companions. They use AI to read emotions and social cues, making them better at interacting with humans. As a result, they can deliver news to people, remind patients of appointments, and keep them in touch with family.


An example of a robotic nurse's assistant is Aeo, a humanoid robot with two arms that can, for example, disinfect surfaces, open doors, and carry things. Aeo's vision and artificial intelligence allow it to determine if patients need medical help.


I also want to make special mention of rehabilitation AI robots, indispensable for patients with impaired motor functions. They help people re-learn the necessary skills and accompany them daily. Rehabilitation robots can monitor a patient's physical abilities and strength using sensors, collect key biological indicators during a session, and transmit them to artificial intelligence algorithms for analysis. This allows the system to adjust to a person's rhythm and, as a result, recover faster.


In recent news in this area, the first robotic rehabilitation clinic opened in Australia to help patients undergoing physical and neurological therapy. Thanks to artificial intelligence, the machines develop interactive games for people after a stroke and patients with spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and CVID. Robots gently move patients' fingers, hands, and arms when they cannot do so on their own and help retrain the brain and gradually regain independent movement.


Reducing pain and recovery time with AI-assisted robotic surgery

Surgery is another area where artificial intelligence can make doctors' jobs a lot easier. The surgical robotics industry has quadrupled to $3 billion in the past eight years. It will continue to grow in the next decade. Bain has recently found out that more than three-quarters of surgeons in the U.S. are interested in surgical robotics.


AI-assisted surgery is usually associated with minimally invasive procedures that allow minimal patient damage through small incisions. This leads to fewer complications, less pain and blood loss, quicker recovery, and, eventually, less noticeable scars. Leading health institutions, including Mayo Clinic, already perform robotic-assisted interventions. Though AI surgery is expensive, the benefits outweigh the costs and improve health providers’ bottom line as patients don't have to stay in hospitals for long.


Thanks to AI, surgeons can focus on complex aspects of surgery. They control a robotic system, which usually consists of a manipulator with a camera and mechanical arms with attached surgical instruments, at a computer near the operating table. Doctors obtain a detailed visualization of microscopic structures through HD cameras. AI and computer vision ensure the speed and accuracy of the procedure, for example, distinguishing tissue types so the doctor does not nick nerves and muscles. Some highly intelligent AI robots can even perform tasks autonomously, with surgeons monitoring them from the console.


AI can also help with preoperative planning. At this stage, specialists plan a surgical intervention based on the patient's medical records and images. Algorithms analyze them together with historical methods and millions of datasets from similar surgeries to identify critical insights and best practices. AI is then used to create a plan according to specific criteria, evaluate what is happening and adjust the strategy in real-time in case of unforeseen events.


Surgical robots are evolving all over the world today. For instance, in February 2022, a doctor in Belgium performed Europe's first prostatectomy using the Hugo robotic surgical system. And the UAE recently announced that it would execute more procedures with intelligent robots in various surgical specialties. Many hospitals in the UAE are already equipped with the DaVinci XI robot, which allows surgeons to have better angles and visibility.


Maintaining privacy and compliance in aesthetic and beauty sectors

The wellness and beauty industry could also benefit from introducing robots controlled by AI, especially considering the current recruitment crisis on the market. Smart robots can take over routine operations, staying compliant with law requirements, to reduce the burden on human specialists and free their time for customers in line.


Robots greatly simplify hair transplants, which are in high demand today. ISHRS estimates that about 703 thousand of such procedures were performed in 2021. For a transplant, a specialist must extract thousands of hair follicles from the donor site and move them to the required place. This is a lengthy and repetitive process. Modern clinics implement AI robots for these purposes. For example, the American ARTAS uses several AI algorithms to select and take the most robust and prolific follicles automatically. With the help of the ARTAS robot, it is possible to extract up to 6,000 follicles in one day. With manual extraction, this figure is usually at most 3,000-3,500.


Another service at the interface between medicine and beauty that AI robotics could change is massage. The pandemic hit the industry hard: in 2020, at least temporarily, 4 out of 5 massage therapists stopped providing their services. Many did not return to work later because they had time to change careers. Meanwhile, educational institutions cannot meet the market demand for massage therapists.


As someone familiar with the spa industry, I believe the shortage of specialists in this field is concerning. With more than 70% of salons and hotels struggling to fill vacancies, as shown in the latest ISPA IS survey, it is evident that there is a significant demand for skilled individuals, particularly massage therapists. The inability to find qualified practitioners could potentially impact the quality of services provided to customers. Robots based on AI could offer high procedure accuracy, eliminate human errors, and reduce the cost of a massage by up to 40%. They can work together with humans and provide services to those clients who cannot wait to see a real specialist or do not like the touch of strangers.


There are already several AI-robotic massage solutions on the global market. Robosculptor, for example, has a modular design with a couch, a control screen, an automatic drive, and a high-speed 3D scanner. The system scans the patient's body position with a high-resolution 3D camera in 10 seconds, creates a 3D model of the patient, and builds an automatically adaptable map of the trajectories the massage session will follow. In this case, AI improves more accurate 3D body recognition based on the experience of scanning multiple persons.


A common concern, as always with robots, is patient safety. In robotic massage, it can be guaranteed, for example, by limiting the maximum load on the body, joysticks to regulate the pressure level within certain limits, and alarm buttons for the client and the operator.


Future of AI Robotics in Healthcare and Beauty

According to forecasts, robotics in medicine and beauty will continue to develop rapidly. The market for AI in robotics will grow even faster, with CAGR exceeding 27% over the next 5 years. Thanks to AI, robots could revolutionize the segment and take on more and more functions. I firmly believe it has the potential to automate and improve a wide range of processes, from direct patient care to mass drug production. In surgery, intelligent robots will be able to perform some procedures completely autonomously, such as suturing. AI-transplantation technology could be adapted to Botox or filler injections. To do this, AI has to learn how to perform these procedures in a way that doesn't mess up a person's face.


So far, the biggest obstacle to the development of AI in robotics is the cost of the technology, which does not pay for itself immediately, as well as a certain distrust of it by vendors and patients. Building trust can be the key to innovation. Hospitals and other institutions need to explore and communicate to the market the benefits that smart robots can bring to both patients and healthcare providers. It will also be necessary for clinics and salons to establish a close connection between vendors and their staff to teach the latter how to handle AI properly.