According to data, the market value of soft robots in 2020 is about 1.05 billion USD, and it is expected to reach 6.37 billion US dollars by 2026, with an average annual compound annual growth rate of 35.17%. Once launched, soft robots that benefit many industries are gradually developing It has become the favorite of the robot industry, and its application fields are becoming wider and wider with the development of robot products.
What is soft robot?
Soft robots are robots made of special soft materials, combined with flexible electronics such as flexible PCB, force perception and control, and artificial intelligence technology, and have anthropomorphic perception capabilities such as touch, vision, and hearing.
Compared with traditional mechanical robots, it is a special robot capable of assisting humans in multi-tasking in complex environments. Because of this feature, it has very good application prospects in the fields of in vivo medical treatment, assisted rehabilitation, artificial organs, and exoskeletons that require safe and friendly human-computer interaction.
3D-printed medical robots are already available
Nowadays, the market for soft robots in the medical field is huge, making the products in the medical field more and more abundant and the technology more and more advanced. Australian scientists have developed a small, soft robot that can 3D print biomaterials directly inside the human body to repair damaged organs, tissues and blood vessels.
This is an unprecedented change. The current treatment method is to manufacture biomaterials outside the body, but the process of relying on surgery to implant them may cause a lot of blood loss and infection. At present, there is no commercial technology that can directly perform 3D printing in the human body.
The robot is only 11-13mm wide and is made of soft materials such as silicone rubber, making it small enough to be inserted into the mouth or anus, like an endoscopic tool, which will reduce injuries from invasive procedures.
At present, this new type of soft robot can improve the baby’s open-heart surgery test equipment, using “bio-ink” and living cells to print out tissue-like structures, and then naturally merge with the human body. The biomedical engineers said that most of the cells survived printing and continued to grow for the next week, replicating four times as many cells as observed seven days later.
The mini 3D printer on the robot has a three-axis print head that can bend and twist using hydraulics at the tip of a soft robotic arm. The tiny robot could also serve as an all-in-one endoscopy tool, as its printing nozzle can be changed into a scalpel and water knife. For example, a practitioner could use a scalpel to remove a cancerous tumor, then use a water jet to clean the lesion, and then bioprint directly onto the wound to speed up the healing process.
Current soft robots’ circumstances
The research team believes that the robot is expected to be commercialized within the next five to seven years, pending further clinical trials. Although soft robots can perform tasks in complex environments and have high flexibility and plasticity, there are still many problems to be solved, otherwise it will be difficult to put them into commercial use.
The kinematics and dynamics of soft robots are very complex, requiring advanced control algorithms and sensing technologies to control and monitor their movements. And the movements are also easily affected by external disturbances and environmental changes, which will also increase the difficulty of control.
By adopting technologies such as deep learning, the intelligence level, adaptability and flexibility of soft robots can be improved, so that robots can have more advanced control algorithms and sensing technologies to better control and monitor the soft robots movement.
Inspirations for the future design of soft robots
(1) Hardware and software design
Soft robots need to use a large number of sensors and actuators to achieve motion and control, which puts forward high requirements for hardware and software design. It also has certain technical and cost requirements for material manufacturing and processing. Especially for some medical soft robots that need to have an operation in patient’s body, the size and softness of the sensor must be able to enter some relatively narrow areas without harming the patient’s body. Safety is the top priority of the robot design.
(2) Power support
The movement and control of soft robots require large power support. Besides, the soft robots used in the medical field also need a long battery life to ensure the smooth progress of each operation, and these requirements will increase energy costs and use restrictions. More advanced battery technology must be developed to improve the endurance and service life of soft robots. At the same time, it is necessary to cooperate with excellent energy management procedures to reduce the energy consumption of robots to enhance the endurance of robots.
(3) the human-computer interaction function
The human-computer interaction function is also an essential function for soft robots used in the medical field. As a doctor’s scalpel, it must be able to execute the doctor’s instructions in place before it can become a doctor’s helper in treating patients. Only by strengthening the research and promotion of the practical application of soft robots can we understand the actual needs of robots design, and develop different types of soft robots for different application scenarios and tasks. While enriching product varieties, we can also improve product strength.
The various breakthrough updates of soft robots in the medical field show that the future medical field will be one of the largest markets for soft robots, which can bring major changes and progress to the medical industry. Robots can provide doctors and patients with safer, more accurate and more effective treatment and surgery plans, which can reduce the risk of medical accidents and misdiagnosis, and improve the success rate of treatment.
With the continuous development and innovation of technology, it is believed that the application prospects of soft robots in the medical field will become wider and wider, and the market potential will become greater and greater, and they will be able to make greater contributions to the cause of human health.