KUKA’s Medical Robot Ready to Scrub In
Isaac Maw posted on August 31, 2017 |

1The LBR Med can be used in a variety of applications. In this case, it’s performing an ultrasound. (Image courtesy of KUKA.)

Great potential exists for automation in medicine.

Robotic surgeons enable doctors to operate on patients remotely via telemanipulation, keeping human surgeons safe while they deliver treatment to soldiers in the field or allowing specialists to scrub in on complex procedures thousands of miles away.

Medical robots can also perform much smaller, more detailed surgical tasks using specialized end effectors that can reach where human hands cannot. Even routine tasks like tracking inventory and sterilizing tools could be automated.

However, getting any sort of advanced machinery approved for use in medical applications is difficult, due to the strict regulations involved.

First Industrial Robot Certified for Use in Medical Field

KUKA has broken this barrier with the LBR Med lightweight robot. The LBR Med is based on KUKA’s LBR iiwa industrial robot, which is designed for delicate assembly work.

To obtain the CB Test Certificate, the LBR iiwa lightweight robot for industrial applications had to be adapted to the needs of the medical sector and pass the tests required by the international standards IEC 60601-1 and IEC 62304. IEC 60601 is a series of technical standards for the safety and effectiveness of medical electrical equipment, published by the International Electrotechnical Commission. The international standard IEC 62304 is a standard which specifies life cycle requirements for the development of medical software and software within medical devices. An accredited test body carried out the testing of the hardware and software of both the 7-kg payload and 14-kg payload variants of the LBR Med.

The LBR Med is the first robotic component approved for integration into a medical product, meaning it is enjoying a comfortable space in the market. KUKA is shipping the first orders for this robot in September 2017.

Now that the robot is certified, it can serve as a base for many medical devices. For example, the robot’s stiffness and stability make it ideal for bone surgery. Other applications include performing ultrasound scans, endoscopies and laser procedures, controlled either proximately or remotely via telemanipulation.

Like other collaborative robots that can interact directly with humans, the LBR Med has integrated torque sensors that can detect external forces. It can be gently pushed aside by the physician and withdraws automatically when touched. 


LBR Med. Image Courtesy of KUKA

Crucially, the articulation of the robot is highly accurate. The 7-kg model has a positioning accuracy of ±0.1mm, with the 14-kg model at ±0.15mm. Robots with this level of accuracy could be used to assist in minimally invasive surgery, according to the company. Such surgery could also be performed remotely.

More Applications of Medical Cobots: Radiation, CT Scanning, Robot Horse Therapy

KUKA has made other forays into the medical field, with larger medical robots capable of carrying and positioning patients. For example, the Siemens ARTIS Pheno system uses a CT scanner on a large KUKA QUANTEC robotic arm and a tilting patient table.

The Exacure system uses the same arm to lift and position patients for radiation treatment.

 Another interesting application of patient-carrying robots is robot hippotherapy, or equine therapy involving a robot instead of a horse. 


Robot Hippotherapy with the hirob. Image Courtesy Intelligent Motion.

The hirob rehabilitation robot is one example of this technology, using a KUKA robot. The robot simulates the path of motion as it would result from a horse’s walking movement, enabling automated hippotherapy to be conducted. During the full duration of therapy, the patient must actively react to the robot’s movements. As a result, trunk stability and balance are improved. Compared to conventional hippotherapy, therapy involving the hirob system is more attractive for its lower operating costs.

Ideally, this precedent-setting certification process will make it faster and easier for other robotic products to gain access to patients, helping make strides in medical technology and save lives.

For more information, visit the KUKA website.

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