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“Robot Machines” and Medicine

Nov 2010
A recent issue of my local newspaper carried a syndicated medical advice column in which a reader expressed concern about doctors communicating with patients via “robot machines” and asked, “What has the medical industry come to?”

Well, I don’t have the understanding or the space to discuss the current state of the medical industry, but those troubling “robot machines” certainly are within the BioPhotonics purview. The good doctor told his readers, “Robotic medicine is the wave of the future,” and while he and his correspondent were focused on mobile robots controlled remotely by a physician, medical marvels of another kind can be found assimilating into surgical teams to assist with procedures including prostate gland removal and obstructed kidney repair, to name just two.

Courtesy of, and ©2010, Intuitive Surgical Inc.

Contributing editor Marie Freebody delves into the latest advances in surgical robotics, including the sensing and vision optics involved, in her feature, “A Cut Above: Robotics in Surgery,” beginning on page 29. In addition to the optical technologies involved in diseased organ removal, Freebody will look into the future and the emerging nanorobot technology that may one day make its way into human bloodstreams for diagnosis and targeted drug delivery.

Keeping to our medical theme, contributing editor Hank Hogan probes the limits of miniature endoscopes. In “For Medical Instruments, Going Small Pays Off Big,” beginning on page 32, Hogan explains that, although ever-smaller instruments may bring benefits to patients and physicians, the laws of physics may slow the race to reduce.

I’m not sure how I feel about sharing my medical condition with a robot, even if it has my doctor’s face, but I do talk with friends and family via an Internet phone service that allows me to see and be seen while I talk. It is just a matter of time before we find ourselves face to interface with service providers of all kinds.

Enjoy the issue, and send your thoughts to me at, or leave a comment in the space provided after every story at

The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...

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