The advancing technology of robotics offers convenience and aid to human life. From spacecraft, public service and medical care, these machines contribute, making work easier.
The best example is this soft robot implant that can bring astounding change in health and human capabilities.
Ellen Roche, a postdoctoral researcher at the National University of Ireland, and her team have designed a robotic silicone sleeve that fits around the heart. This device can save the life of people with heart problems by pumping enough blood through the body if ever heart failure happens.
This soft robot has actuators, which, when pressurized with air, can contract and twist the sleeve. Thus, keeping the heart pumping.
A demonstration of the sequential squeezing and twisting action of the robotic sleeve. (c) Science Friday
The device has been tested in pigs. In the lab, its prototype "trigger the actuation of the device, and simultaneously to pace the heart,” she notes in a statement.
Soft robots “are very different from conventional robots with rigid parts, but they're robotic in the sense that you can program them to achieve a predefined motion,” says Roche.
The team looks forward to testing the technology in humans. When trials succeed, the device would surely decrease the rate of deaths due to heart failure. Soft robots may also be used by patients while waiting for a heart transplant.
“It's very much in the research phase,” Roche told the PRI. “And we have a lot more work to do in terms of optimizing the device and miniaturizing the hardware. And a lot more animal testing to do — long-term animal testing to make sure that it's safe to implant in humans. So, it'll definitely be a few years, but we're hoping to advance it along the path.”
The prototyped soft robotic glove for users with hand impairments. The range of motion that can be achieved is shown here. (c) Panagiotis Polygerinos
The experts also test the abilities of these flexible robots in other internal organs, as well as outside the body. Panos Polygerinos helped design one robot that can help patients with hand impairments to use their fingers to grasp. Polygerinos is an assistant professor of engineering at Arizona State University.
“So, we're placing those soft, inflatable structures on top of their fingers,” he explains in an interview.
“We're matching the anatomy of the finger. And when we are pressurizing them with some fluids ... we can actually have the finger bend in synchrony with how we control the actuators.”
Experts do see many other potential uses of this soft robot implants. Another possible application is to apply it in soft, artificial limb to make it move. The device can also support the biceps of wheelchair users, who may suffer from muscular overuse.
“It's going to be a few years before we start seeing prototypes and devices getting out there, but it's going to happen,” he says. “So, the future, I think, is bright.”