Sunday, May 12, 2013

Robot vision: from UAVs to the operating room

The proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles in recent years is due in no small way to the rapid development of the optical sensors that give these "drones" the ability to see. Understandably, the military deployment of drones has attracted plenty of criticism. But similar technology is helping to open up less controversial applications.
Earlier this month, for example, Hitachi said it had developed an autonomous vehicle that, thanks to a stereo camera and multiple laser rangefinders, could be used to transport the elderly or disabled.

Robots are also being used increasingly for surgical procedures (an estimated half a million last year), and here there is a potentially huge opportunity for photonics technologies to help and guide surgeons using them, to the benefit of their patients. Applications such as real-time visualization of tissue oxygenation, or precise determination of the extent of a tumor, could play a key role in improving surgical outcomes.
To develop those applications, the links between the photonics and clinical worlds will need to become stronger - but the future combination of surgeons, robots and photonics promises to be a powerful one.

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