Scientists Explore the Inside of a Beating Heart With an Autonomous Robot

Scientists around the world are constantly looking to explore the boundaries of new technologies. A new experiment has allowed a team of enthusiasts to successfully create a new autonomous robotic device. The purpose of this new tool is to explore a pig’s heart while it is beating. Although that might not be a major selling point, this technological breakthrough may be used to examine human hearts’ condition in the future.

An Autonomous Beating Heart Explorer

On paper, it is nearly impossible to explore the inside of a beating heart in a safe manner. Despite numerous breakthroughs in scientific research, there is still a long way to go. A team of scientists has now come up with a potential solution which can have major consequences. Their autonomous robotic device can safely traverse the inside of a beating pig’s heart. That in itself marks an important milestone, which can also be beneficial in terms of more human-oriented research.

It is one of the first times researchers have officially showcased an autonomous surgical robot can navigate the inside of a heart. Instead of it being controlled by a doctor and a joystick, this new robot is capable of properly moving on its own. The big question is whether or not this development can rival the more traditional manually-operated catheter which is inserted into blood vessels to examine and repair the heart.

When this new solution was presented, there were a lot of questions as to how the robot can operate autonomously. According to the researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, the “camera tip” effectively operates as an optical whisker. The concept is similar to how certain insects and rodents use whiskers to move along walls or falls. This autonomous solution periodically taps against the heart’s valve and wall without causing any damage in the process.

Under the hood of the robot, the information is collected and combined with machine learning to build an accurate “map” of the heart in question. Although the approach itself sounds very straightforward at first, pulling it off has been a big challenge. The current work is still in the preliminary stages, although trials have indicated the team is seemingly on the right track so far. It will take a few more years of research before this autonomous robot can be used in an operating room.

Getting the technology in place for autonomous heart-exploring robots is perhaps the easiest part of the equation. Obtaining regulatory approval and getting politicians on board to support this tool will be a different matter altogether. That is always the case when new developments occur, especially where some form of technology is concerned. Additionally, there will be some ethical questions to be answered when dealing with autonomous technology inside living creatures.

Considering how this robotic catheter will learn from previous experiences and become more intelligent over time, it will be interesting to see where the team can take this technology over the coming years. While autonomous robots are not new in the medical sector, it is the first time it is used to explore the inside of a beating heart. Not everyone seems convinced this is a noteworthy breakthrough either. Johns Hopkins University’s Russ Taylor is pleased this achievement has been unlocked, but he doesn’t consider it to be a breakthrough.

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