Innovation Fund Denmark has just granted DKK 7 million for the further development of a new robot that will ensure COPD patients of the right amount of oxygen. DTU sees great potential in automating other procedures and routines to improve patient safety and hospital finances.
DTU Electrical Engineering, the Danish company PACTOR, and Senior Consultant Ejvind Frausing, Hvidovre Hospital, have jointly developed a robot that can monitor the content of oxygen in the blood of COPD patients. Unlike healthy persons, COPD patients cannot tolerate excessive oxygen levels in their blood, as it may impair their breathing. Too little oxygen is also dangerous, because it damages the organs of the body and—in a worst-case scenario—severe oxygen deficiency may be fatal. It is therefore important that these patients are treated with the right oxygen amounts, as both too much and too little oxygen is harmful.
“Currently, nurses monitoring patients continuously are responsible for checking that they receive the right oxygen amounts. But this creates great uncertainty, as undetected changes may occur in between the nurses’ checks. Therefore, the robot will increase patient safety,” explains Ejvind Frausing, Senior Consultant at the Medical Unit, Hvidovre Hospital, who came up with the idea for the robot.
“At the same time, this will allow nurses to spend time on other healthcare tasks, and inpatient stays can be shortened. The oxygen robot will consequently result in both care quality and financial improvements”.
The O2Matic robot consists of a small box that receives data every second from measurements of the oxygen content in the blood via a clamp on the patient’s finger and a bracelet around the patient’s wrist. The robot can subsequently adjust the amount of oxygen supplied. In case of major changes in the patient’s condition, the robot will send an alarm to the staff.
Doctor’s knowledge encoded in the robot
DTU has contributed to the development of the robot—both the concept and software development. The latter has comprised the coding of the robot with the doctors’ knowledge about what the robot is to do, e.g. if the patient’s pulse drops. In addition, DTU has contributed to building the robot so that it consists of the most optimal components.
“We can see that greater automation elsewhere in the healthcare sector can also improve patient safety and free up staff to perform other assignments. The development is progressing rapidly, and, in our research, we work with robots that are not only able to carry out very well-defined tasks in a fixed framework, such as mowing grass in a fenced-in area. Our new robots are also capable of reading the surroundings and responding to changes in them, so that they become much more usable for more ‘intelligent’ tasks, both in industry and at hospitals,” explains Associate Professor Ole Ravn, Head of Automation and Control at DTU Electrical Engineering.
He sees great potential in automation in the healthcare sector and expects that, before long, other robots will be developed for special monitoring tasks.
Next step: the world’s largest oxygen treatment trial
In the course of 2017, the oxygen robot is to undergo a number of tests in order to be finally approved for patient use. The robot will then be included in the world’s largest oxygen treatment trial on humans, which will be conducted among COPD patients in a number of hospitals in Denmark.
“We will then be ready to produce and sell the oxygen robot, both in Denmark and abroad. Today, there is no similar automatic oxygen device, so we expect great interest,” says Director Farzad Saber from the Danish company PACTOR, which has participated in developing the robot.
In the long term, the intention is also to develop a version of the robot which can be used by patients at home, thereby reducing the number of admissions.