At the 2015 Bay Area Maker Faire, Carol Reiley spoke on the future of robots in our lives, in medical technology, and how our society might better shape the future of robotics. In her 15 years of experience as a computer scientist and roboticist, she has worked on various applications of robotics as they relate to helping humans.
In one of Reiley’s slides, she spoke about how robotics has enabled less invasive surgeries. The future of surgery may not require any incision at all, with surgical robots entering the body through natural orifices such as the mouth. Miniaturization of robots has also birthed devices like the Pillcam, a video camera that can be swallowed for minimally invasive imaging of a person’s colon.
Another fruitful area of research is in the development of sensor-augmented surgical tools. For example, the Intuitive Surgical Firefly system injects a dye that allows for fluorescent imaging, which helps identify tumors in surgery. Augmented reality is also making its way into the medical field, working with internal imaging to allow surgeons to look beyond a patient’s skin.
Outside of the operating room, Reiley also sees a role for robots as companions. Robotic helpers will remind patients when to take pills, assist in aerobic exercises, and may even operate as telepresence platforms for remote doctor visits.
Of course, all of this new technology comes at significant cost, as many new medical devices are prohibitively expensive for the general public. Wanting to make an impact at a lower cost, Reiley has been working on low-cost DIY medical projects to get more people to use technology. Two of these projects, Air Guitar Hero and DIY Blood Pressure Monitor, were featured in Make: magazine Vol. 29.
To get children more interested in robotics, Reiley created a competition for middle- and high-school students. Currently in its seventh year, the John Hopkins Robo Challenge has had over 1,000 participants. Competition challenges are designed to encourage using robotics to solve complex problems, such as finding a grape embedded in jello, which is similar to finding a tumor in soft tissue.
Throughout the talk, Reiley emphasized the importance of getting more children interested in technology. Many children (and adults) believe that coding and robotics is reserved for the elite “geniuses.” This is especially true for young girls, who have very few female role models in technical fields. If we are to solve the hard problems in robotics, we must encourage the next generation of engineers by showing them that coding and making robots is not just for the elite, anyone can do it.