You know that futuristic world we see depicted in films where our protagonist is brought back from the brink of destruction by a robotic helper that guides them through the process of rehabilitation? That might not be as far away as we think.
As AI and robotics become a bigger feature in our lives, they become a bigger part of medicine too, with a significant role to play in rehabilitation. In fact, the rehabilitation robot market is currently projected to be worth $6.4bn by 2025, according to Wise Guy Reports.
So, what does the market look like today and what does the future hold for robotic rehabilitation? DATAx spoke with Bongsu Kim, founder of LinkDyn, a startup focused on enhancing quality of life and productivity using physically interactive robotic technology, and targeting the commercialization of rehabilitation robots, about how robotics are being used to aid patient rehabilitation.
DATAx: How does LinkDyn help patients in recovery?
Bongsu Kim: LinkDyn develops advanced robotic technologies that enable unprecedented human-robot interactions in applications such as robotic rehabilitation, VR training and more.
Our products are inspired by the increasing demand for effective solutions for neuromuscular recovery following incidents such as a stroke. Most patients do not receive therapy with the frequency and intensity necessary for optimal recovery. This is due to an increase in the overall number of patients, the labor-intensive nature of therapy and high costs. Robotic rehabilitation has been attracting significant attention due to its potential to deliver better outcomes and lower costs.
As a result, the American Heart Association now recommends robotic therapy to improve motor function and mobility after a stroke.
Despite this endorsement, dissemination of rehabilitation robots to the market is limited due to deficits in the capabilities of current robots, lack of evidence-based therapies and high costs. This leads to a lack of adoption which contributes to high costs and limited investments which again results in deficits in robotic capability.
Our core technology, the LinkDyn Actuator, breaks this cycle by lowering cost and improving robotic capability to perform evidence-based therapy. The actuator enables robots to complete fluid and freeform movement unlike the current generation of robots. With this actuator, we are developing a robot capable of providing therapeutic interventions based on a long history of neuromotor studies. The robot will have an integrated VR system with a game-like, motivational training environment like daily life to ensure that skill acquisition directly transfers to activities of daily living.
We believe that our effort and innovation will deliver a breakthrough to current neurological rehabilitation practices and will allow robotic rehabilitation to fully enter the market and maximize patient recovery.
DATAx: Please tell us about the process you used to develop robots that mimic human movement.
BK: We looked at the capabilities of the human body and the limitations of current robotic technology to develop and build a state-of-the-art robotic actuator. It operates on principles of force and elasticity borrowed from human muscle, instead of conventional, rigid actuation. This force-controlled behavior extends to robots built using our actuator. The robots can provide smooth and precise guided movements in a rehabilitation setting and realistic force feedback in virtual-reality training simulations.
DATAx: How do you expect the way humans interact with robotics to change in the next 10 years?
BK: We imagine a future where robots are smarter and adaptable due to AI and interactions with robots at home and at work become commonplace.
Today, collaborative and exoskeleton robots are used primarily in industrial and healthcare settings to train workers, prevent workplace injury and increase productivity, but we anticipate these recreational and at-home uses for the same devices. For example, exoskeletons will be rented by older individuals to navigate cities (like Lime or Bird electric scooters).
Collaborative robots, primarily used in manufacturing for things like product assembly, packaging will be able to operate in home environments due to vision and natural language processing. These robots can function as household assistants.
We also see autonomous robots expanding beyond self-driving cars and delivery vehicles to household pets or digital companions. Overall, we believe that robots and automation will augment, but will not replace human capabilities.
DATAx: How will the rise of wearables more generally change the healthcare industry? What role will robotics play in that transformation?
BK: Healthcare is one of the largest industries in the US but has generally been slow to modernize. Though there are more treatments and cures than ever before, problems with quality of care, access to care and cost of care still exist. We believe wearables and robotics powered by AI can successfully address these issues.
Wearable devices with integrated AI will be used for continuous monitoring of things such as vital signs, glucose levels and medicine intake. The resulting data will provide several benefits to patients and providers: Personalized care and treatment options, early detection and diagnosis, and easier adherence to treatment plans.
Most importantly, patient health can be monitored remotely and analyzed and delivered to providers in real time. Remote healthcare will lead to cost reductions due to a focus on prevention, as well as reduced hospital and clinic visits.
Additionally, wearables themselves can provide patients with the data and information they need to better manage their health. Anyone with a smartphone or wearable will have some access to healthcare.
Robotic devices used in treatment facilities will improve the quality of care by performing repetitive, labor-intensive tasks or providing objective guidance. Robots can take over the incredible amount of monitoring and logging that occurs in hospitals reducing incorrectly filled paperwork, medication errors and other common mistakes.
Robotic devices will also help providers administer treatment. Surgical robots will provide better visualization, minimally invasive access and guidance during surgeries, while rehabilitation exoskeletons will provide more frequent and intensive therapy, and care robots will assist patients who need long-term care.
DATAx: What does the future hold for LinkDyn?
BK: LinkDyn aims to be a leading provider of robotic technologies for applications ranging from medical research and rehabilitation to industrial VR training. This year, we will be participating in SXSW Pitch as a finalist and releasing our first product, the LinkVR, a general-purpose robotic arm and development platform.
Additionally, with funding from the US National Science Foundation, we plan to build prototypes of exoskeleton robots with a sample set of neurologically sound therapeutic exercises.