3D-Printed Respirator Valves Exemplify Hospital-Based Robotics

italian hospital gets supply relief from 3D-printed equipment

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Local manufacturers in Italy are 3D printing vital hospital equipment, FastCompany reported. With supplies running out, stocks of respirator valves have been replenished by good Samaritans in the north of the country. Medicine and robots continue to merge in exciting ways.

Medical room with robotics
Modern medicine incorporates the use of robots and 3D printing as increased need creates demand for the technology. Photo by Vadym Stock / Shutterstock

Global fears over the novel coronavirus are real, dynamic, and seemingly inescapable. On the other hand, some altruistic men and women in Italy have taken it upon themselves to use their 3D printers to help refill the diminishing inventory numbers of valves for respiratory machines needed at hospitals. According to the FastCompany article, this much-needed relief came about due to a chain of phone calls that started with a reporter in the town of Brescia and ended in a collaboration between the CEO of an engineering company and an expert in 3D print manufacturing.

“3D printing, which has already been used in the medical field for everything from creating custom, affordable prosthetics to printing surgical tools to personalizing pills, could be key to making ventilators available everywhere,” the article said.

Hospitals have made use of robotics increasingly in recent years, including the use of telepresence robots.

Ava and the RP-VITA

iRobot, the company which developed the incredibly popular Roomba device, set its sights higher than sweeping up after us.

iRobot teamed up with Cisco to create Ava, a platform for a mobile service robot capable of wireless telepresence,” said Dr. John Long, Professor of Biology and a Professor of Cognitive Science on the John Guy Vassar Chair of Natural History at Vassar College. “This makes possible a robot that can map and travel a floor, but also engage in desktop-quality teleconferencing.”

In other words, Ava is similar to a home base for robots working in hospitals. These robots can travel around the hospital performing various tasks in order to free up their human counterparts to pursue other duties.

“Another company, InTouch Health, has used the Ava platform as the foundation for the robot called RP-VITA,” Dr. Long said. “VITA can be present in a patient’s room to help caregivers integrate data from multiple sources by presenting them at a single console. In addition, VITA can also collect the data and serve as a hub for monitoring patients remotely.”

Dr. Long added that VITA can help family and medical staff communicate with a patient wherever they are in the hospital. This touches on two key features of the robot that sound simple but can make a huge difference. The first is that VITA can be summoned by caregivers to help with monitoring and communication tasks. The second involves the patient’s physical location.

“VITA can now navigate to a new place on its own, having a complete world model of the hospital and the lower-level reflexive behaviors to avoid hitting people and things that aren’t on those maps,” Dr. Long said. “One of the really nifty things that VITA can do is find a patient. There are times, especially when a hospital is overrun with victims of a large accident, when patients can be temporarily misplaced. To identify a patient, VITA uses a combination of face recognition and radio-frequency ID tags.”

Applied on a larger scale, several VITA robots could present hospital staff with patients’ locations, statuses, and upcoming schedules, then help guide the staff to them as needed.

With hospitals under even greater pressure than normal during crises like the coronavirus, medical robots and related tools are earning their places in the medical industry.

Dr. Long is a Professor of Biology and a Professor of Cognitive Science on the John Guy Vassar Chair of Natural History at Vassar College

Dr. John Long contributed to this article. Dr. Long is a Professor of Biology and a Professor of Cognitive Science on the John Guy Vassar Chair of Natural History at Vassar College. He also serves as the Director of Vassar’s Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory, which he helped found in 2003. Professor Long received his Ph.D. in Zoology from Duke University.