Life-saving breast examinations could soon be performed by a robotic hand that combines ultrasound with an artificial sense of touch.


The robotic breast examiner was devised by researchers at Michigan State University in the US. They say it will enable a medical specialist to examine women from a remote location, perhaps even from the other side of the world.



“Just because you’re located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or even Botswana, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a sophisticated diagnostic or therapeutic procedure,” says Carol Slomski, a surgeon at Michigan State University, who helped design the system.



The robot hand is remotely controlled by means of a haptic “glove”, in which each finger is connected to a motion-sensing device. The operator’s hand movements are then measured and sent via a computer to the artificial hand, which almost instantly mimics the operator’s moves.



The robotic grasper also measures the consistency of objects in its grasp by means of feedback to its motors. And this tactile information is fed back to the mechanical glove giving the wearer an artificial sensation of touch.



The arm also incorporates an ultrasound sensor as well as three video cameras, to give the expert a good view of the procedure.



“Having the capability of ultrasound and palpation simultaneously is a major advantage,” adds Ranjan Mukherjee, another member of the Michigan team. “Often the ultrasound and exam are done separately. But if the physician can look at the image and feel what he or she is seeing, that’s another huge advantage.”



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