Saving Lives with Robotic Intubation
Meghan Brown posted on December 04, 2015 | 6111 views

Patients in critical condition often require a procedure called intubation in order to keep their airways open during medical emergencies or surgeries.

Intubation is a delicate procedure performed with a device called a laryngoscope.  Unfortunately, the laryngoscope and devices like it rely on human visual guidance.  This visual contact is difficult as airway anatomy is often hidden from view due to the presence of blood, vomit, swelling or injury.

These challenges mean that a significant number of intubations result in failure. Taking this failure rate as a need to improved intubation methods, a team of engineers at Ohio State University designed a robotic intubation device.

Robotic intubation device in development at the OSU College of Engineering. (Image courtesy of Ohio State University.)
Robotic intubation device in development at the OSU College of Engineering. (Image courtesy of Ohio State University.)

The robotic endoscopic device receives three-dimensional information about its anatomical location by means of a small speaker placed on the skin near the patient’s laryngeal prominence, more commonly known as the Adam’s apple. This speaker emits sounds and magnetic waves that are detected by accelerometers and magnetic fields, respectively.

“With machine vision and automatic controls being what they are today, it is not out of the question that a robotic device could more accurately perform intubations than a human,” said Bob Bailey, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at OSU.

The team developed the robotic device to be able to intubate patients with greater accuracy than a human.  The device also operates autonomously, which the team believes will enable first responders and military personnel to intubate safely and successfully while simultaneously performing other emergency medical procedures.

Currently the device has completed proof-of-concept testing.  “Our next steps include refining computer software, optimizing the motor and embarking on human tests. That is going to take some money, but I think the potential benefit of this technology makes it a great investment,” said Bailey.

For more information, visit the Ohio State University College of Engineering website.

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