Researchers at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), in collaboration with General Motors and Oceaneering, have designed a state-of-the-art, highly dexterous, humanoid robot called Robonaut 2 (R2). R2 is made up of multiple component technologies and systems encompassing nearly 50 patented and patent-pending technologies with the potential to be game-changers in multiple industries, including the medical industry. R2 technologies can aid in a variety of medical applications, ranging from telemedicine to handling the logistics of medical procedures. These activities can be done in autonomous mode or in teleoperation mode, where the robot is controlled by a technician or physician. This type of operation would be advantageous in situations where a biomedical hazard poses risks to humans, such as a contagious outbreak or a combat situation. For more routine daily use, R2 could function as an assistant to the hospital staff.
R2’s unique systems allow the robot to be used in many telemedicine applications and in many medical scenarios. For example, R2 can assist a surgeon and the surgical team with multiple tasks before, during, and after a procedure. The robot has the vision, dexterity, and the ability to perform tasks tirelessly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. R2 can work safely around humans, so it can be integrated into a dynamic hospital environment.
The R2 technology capabilities in telemedicine are being explored through partnerships with medical institutions. After a quick medical procedure training, an R2 teleoperator was able to guide the robot and perform an ultrasound scan on a medical mannequin. Humans at the controls were able to guide the robot to perform the task correctly and efficiently by using R2’s dexterity to apply the appropriate level of force, and were able to track their progress using the robot’s vision system. The technology was also used to experiment using a syringe and an intubation procedure with a mannequin to demonstrate R2’s telemedicine capabilities. R2 is well suited to be used by physicians to conduct medical procedures on humans in remote locations.
R2’s visual system uses multiple cameras that provide stereo vision and depth perception. Its dexterous hands are capable of using many of the same tools created for human use, and it uses its vision, force, and tactile sensing to carry out tasks in real time. The technology can be used in telemedicine, surgical robotics, home medical service robotics, medical rehabilitation, and hospital service robotics.