With sufficient training, robotic systems possess the
potential of achieving human capabilities in this task, offering significant
benefits to a congested healthcare system. Robotic ultrasound could lend an
extra hand in the acquisition of data, thereby augmenting the hospital's
capacity to serve more patients.
Moreover, it could standardize the examinations, facilitating
easier comparisons and simplifying follow-up procedures.
ultrasound could empower a wider range of healthcare personnel to perform, or
supervise, these types of examinations, thus alleviating the need for scarce experts.
To accomplish the goals, the formation of interdisciplinary teams becomes imperative, bringing together experts with diverse backgrounds including, but not limited to, medicine, ultrasound, robotic control, and AI.
Key members include: Cristiana Golfetto, Andreas Østvik, Martin Albertsen Brandt, Javier Pérez de Frutos, Lars Eirik Bø, Esten Ingar Grøtli, Marialena Vagia, Klaus Ening, Geir Arne Tangen and Jan Tommy Gravdahl
We at SINTEF believe in the potential of human-robot
collaboration. Our goal is to develop robotic systems able to perform
autonomous ultrasound examinations.
Organs within the body are not completely stationary,
they undergo movements caused by respiration. In certain medical procedures, it
is crucial to know the exact position of the organ of interest.
when utilizing shock waves to disintegrate kidney stones, it is desirable to
hit the stones without harming healthy tissue. Similarly, during needle
insertion for biopsies, it is crucial to place and navigate the needle in the correct
Advantages of robotic ultrasound
Ultrasound examinations of moving organs demand
outstanding hand-eye coordination by the clinicians when looking at the screen
of the scanner. Therefore, it is common practice to keep the probe still during
both recordings and interventional procedures.
Robotic ultrasound platforms possess the ability to
interpret images and sensor data and react and move autonomously according to
what is interpreted. This enables the acquisition of stable images of moving
organs, opening a range of new possibilities and enhancements.
If robots can follow moving organs, this can also unlock new measurements and monitoring opportunities, promising advancements in diagnostic capabilities.
For example, during
patient follow-ups, the images are easier to compare and study over time. If
robots can follow moving organs, this can also unlock new measurements and
monitoring opportunities, promising advancements in diagnostic capabilities.
Artificial intelligence, ultrasound and robotic arms
The robotic system consists of a robotic arm equipped
with a US probe and an AI algorithm trained to identify the organ of interest within
a US image and track its movement in real-time.
This work originates from a collaboration between
researchers at SINTEF Digital and NTNU which started in 2017. The researchers explored
robotic interaction with moving objects for different use cases, one of which
was robotic ultrasound scanning of the abdominal aorta.
The challenging path to autonomous ultrasound scanning
There are various challenges in this project, notably
the use of modern robotic arms and algorithms to engage in compliant
interaction, allowing the robot to respond gently to contact, like a spring or a
rubber band. This feature enhances safety when interacting with humans, but requires
more sophisticated control algorithms.
It makes it especially challenging when we also need a
robust algorithm for finding the organ in the ultrasound image, so the robot
may follow the movement of the organ over time.
Maintaining precise control and
balance throughout the entire recording process becomes paramount; we want to
minimize the probe pressure to prevent patient discomfort, while simultaneously
ensuring optimal acoustic contact to achieve the best possible image quality.
Undoubtedly, there are significant tasks and hurdles
ahead. However, our team approaches these challenges with great enthusiasm and
determination. The vision of healthcare institutions with robots working
alongside humans is an inspiring goal we strive to achieve. With each step, we
move closer to transforming this vision into a tangible reality.