US updates its Robotics Roadmap

Yesterday, the updated version of the US Robotics Roadmap was released, prepared by the  Congressional Robotics Caucus Advisory Committee. Compared to the 2009 version, the sections on medical and health care robots have been extended. Robots are listed as therapy devices for mental diseases as well, and as promoters for wellness and healthy living. Too bad there are no references in the text at all, despite the fact that it contains some questionable pieces of information. Here is what the group of experts expect in the future: 
  • In 5 years: "New devices and algorithms will enable more effective two-way exchange of information and energy between the human and the robot. In surgical robotics, systems will be able to provide the full suite of physical feedback to the surgeon as they control the robotic instruments. The interface will provide rich haptic feedback including forces as well as complementary information such as surface texture and environmental compliance of the remote patient’s tissue, with similar information available during simulated training sessions. Robotic devices for rehabilitation will be able to output a wide range of impedances, from completely un-encumbering (zero mass/stiffness/friction) to very high impedance with the ability to entirely support the patient’s weight. Orthotic and prosthetic devices will restore lost functionality, such that the human user is able to conduct basic daily tasks without assistance. Understanding of desired human motion based on external sensors and brain-machine interfaces is essential for prosthesis design, requiring an appropriate mapping between human thoughts and the actions of a robotic prosthetic limb.
  • In 10 years: Human-robot interaction will be made intuitive and transparent, such that the human’s intent is seamlessly embodied by the robotic system. Interfaces should be automatically customized to the specific user to maximize intuitiveness of the interface. Interfaces will estimate the user’s intent, rather than simply executing the user’s commands that may be subject to human imperfections. Surgical robots will enable outcomes better than what can be expected in open surgery by eliminating non-useful information from the interface and from the motion command. In rehabilitation applications, robots will interface with patients to provide assistance and/or resistance along appropriate degrees of freedom, and should provide backdrivable or compliant behavior that transmits appropriate physical feedback regarding patient behaviors. Patients will feel feedback that makes them aware of movement errors and spasticity, encourages smooth repetitive movements, and is engaging and challenging as needed. Orthotic and prosthetic devices will enable functionality that begins to match that of the original biological capabilities.
  • In 15 years: Assistance from robotic systems will enable the human user to become better than human. By sensing a human’s movement and inferring intent, robots will be able to provide con-text-appropriate forces to a human operator, such as a rehabilitation patient using a robot to re-gain limb function and strength after a stroke. The robot will limit applied force or motion to levels that are useful and intuitive for the user. It will provide virtual constraints and other physically meaningful elements to help execute tasks accurately, or to provide feedback helpful for training, motor learning, and musculoskeletal adaptation. Surgical teleoperators will enable a human or multiple humans to control non-anthropomorphic manipulation systems with velocity limits, degrees of freedom, and kinematics that deviate significantly from that of a human, with the limitations of the robotic system intuitively conveyed to the human user(s). Both surgical teleoperation systems and rehabilitation robots will provide training to the human user through-out the physical interaction such that the human learns how to be a better user of the robotic system while simultaneously learning how to rely less on the robotic system. Orthotic and prosthetic devices will enable functionality that surpasses the original biological capabilities."


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