Rice expert: Medical robots poised to become smaller, softer, smarter, more autonomous and more commercializable

O’Malley available for interviews about medical robotics’ prospects, progress since first transoceanic surgery 20 years ago

Robotics expert Marcia O'Malley is associate dean for research and innovation in Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering

HOUSTON -- (Nov. 11, 2021) – Medical robots have advanced quickly since the milestone achievement of long-distance telesurgery 20 years ago . Today’s medical robots are capable of guiding cameras in colonoscopies and endoscopies, implanting electrodes in the brain, performing microsurgeries inside the eye, providing rehabilitation therapy for stroke patients and much more.

Robotics expert Marcia O'Malley is associate dean for research and innovation in Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering
Marcia O'Malley

Rice University robotics expert Marcia O’Malley , co-author of a retrospective in this week’s Science Robotics about medical robotics advances of the past decade, is available for interviews to discuss how far the field has progressed and where it is headed.

O’Malley, the associate dean for research and innovation in Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering and Rice’s Thomas Michael Panos Family Professor in Mechanical Engineering, can discuss trends toward medical robots that are smaller, smarter and softer. For example, “capsule” robots no larger than a pill are now helping diagnose gut diseases, and semi-autonomous robots already routinely perform preprogrammed tasks, including taking X-rays.

O’Malley has invented and commercialized robotic technology for more than two decades, including haptic feedback technology that adds sensations of touch to prosthetic limbs, rehabilitation robots and surgical-training systems.

She said improved sensing and control schemes allow today’s rehabilitation robots to detect how stroke patients intend to move their arms and wrists, for example. Using that information, the robots can help direct the patient’s movement, offering the right amount of assistance in every repetition of a therapy session.

“New technology is speeding recovery by achieving the same therapeutic outcomes with fewer repetitions,” O’Malley said. “The big push in the next few years will be to work closely with neuroscientists and neuroengineers to couple the advances in robotics with all we’re learning about the brain. The more we learn about neuroplasticity and how the brain responds to relearning tasks, the more we’ll be able to help patients maximize the benefits of robotic rehabilitation.”

O’Malley is also a professor of computer science and of electrical and computer engineering, and a core member of both the Rice Neuroengineering Initiative and the Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces , a research program jointly launched by Rice and Houston Methodist in April.

To schedule an interview with O’Malley, contact Jade Boyd, associate director of media relations, at jadeboyd@rice.edu or 713-348-6778, or Jeff Falk, director of national media relations, at jfalk@rice.edu or 713-348-6775.

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Read the Science Robotics paper at: https://doi.org/10.1126/scirobotics.abi8017

DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abi8017

Image for download:

https://news.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs2656/files/2021-06/0406_BRAIN-mo-v-lg.jpeg
CUTLINE: Robotics expert Marcia O’Malley is associate dean for research and innovation in Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering, the Thomas Michael Panos Family Professor in Mechanical Engineering, professor of computer science and of electrical and computer engineering, and a core member of both the Rice Neuroengineering Initiative and the Rice-Houston Methodist Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

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