Close your eyes and imagine: In an operating room, a patient is draped and anaesthetized on a table. The other humans – doctors and nurses- are masked and in gowns. A metallic assistant, perhaps a distant cousin to R2D2 of "Star Wars" fame, is standing by. The surgeon calls out for instruments:
And here is when science fiction starts blending eerily into a new health care reality: A slender robotic arm reaches toward a tray. And with each command, "she" hands instruments quickly, efficiently, correctly.Meet Penelope, the new scrub nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan: a robot with a job that in many hospitals is held by humans with college degrees. Penelope is not just any old robot, but one blessed with artificial intelligence, an ability to "see" and the capacity to "hear." June 16, 2005 marked the day when Penelope became the first robot, to work as an independent assistant to the surgical team at the New York Presbyterian Hospital in the removal of a benign tumour. Penelope is equipped with a voice recognition software, allowing the surgeon to ask for the tools in a normal manner, and uses its robotic gripper to place the tools in the surgeon’s arms. Once a particular instrument is used and laid down by the surgeon, Penelope uses her digital cameras and advanced image processing software to recognize it and place it back in its correct position. Penelope even uses a software that helps her predict what require next and keeps track of the instruments used during any surgery. The Penelope system has four major hardware and software components :-
- A 5 degree-of-freedom robotic arm with an electromagnetic gripper
- An instrument platform that consists of sterile horizontal surfaces to store instruments
- The System Stand that allows positioning of Penelope
- The System Software that includes voice recognition and image processing routines
RoboNurses like Penelope can help in the serious manpower shortage faced by the health services industry, while helping save time and increasing efficiency in the operating room. Her human co-workers feel she is not a replacement to human nurses, but rather a great boon that can help the human nurses devote more time tending to patient needs. Costing as little as a portable X-Ray machine, Penelope will soon be a common sight in many operating theatres, enhancing the services of the healthcare industry.