By Su-Lin Lee

We had a fantastic, interactive panel discussion on What Has Transformed Robotics?, sponsored by Science Robotics, as part of the second main day of the Hamlyn Symposium 2016. Panel members this year were Prof Peer Fischer (Max-Planck-Institut für Intelligente Systeme), Prof Rick Satava (University of Washington), Prof Russ Taylor (Johns Hopkins University), and Prof Pierre Dupont (Children’s Hospital Boston) and the session was chaired by Prof Guang-Zhong Yang (Hamlyn Centre, Imperial College London). This year, an online interactive system was successfully used to gather live questions and comments from the audience.

In Prof Yang’s introductory presentation, the results from an opinion poll on medical robotics were presented. The questions included:

  • What is the main role of new materials for robotics?
  • What is the most important research issue for soft robotics?
  • Do we need to revisit NOTES?
  • Towards the Fantastic Voyage: what is the potential of micro-robotics?
  • How do human-robot interfaces improve the usability of robotic technology?
  • What do you think will be the future of therapy?
  • What’s your preferred robotic platform?

There was a wide spread of answers on many of the questions, indicating still a wide range of topics to explore.

A lively discussion then ensued based on similar questions from Prof Yang. Of the last 25 years in medical robotics, the panellists believed the most important advances were “the integrated system”, “awareness and perception of robots”, and “acceptance by surgeons”. Regarding new materials, Prof Fischer postulated that there were no new materials but new fabrications processes; Prof Taylor agreed and also “self-sterilising” materials while Prof Dupont wished for new materials that could solve “the limitations of current materials” in robotics.

Moving onto the topic of soft robotics, the discussion became particularly lively, with Prof Satava suggesting that he hasn’t “seen any soft robotics like an octopus” and “why are we still using gears?” There were great insights from the audience regarding this topic, including the provision of a link to an article on the first gear discovered in nature. Soft bellows was another technology postulated by Prof Dupont for soft robotics. One particular question posed by Prof Satava, however, stumped the entire panel and audience: “What is the definition of soft robotics?”

Finally, the final points were on the future of medical robotics with suggestions including micro-robots and new methods of control (“direct thought”) for the next generation of robots.