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Swinburne researchers train robots to relieve chronic pain

Researchers at Swinburne University, in conjunction with Infrared Robotics (IR), have developed a collaborative robot system that automatically treats soft tissue injuries in the neck, back, and head.

Based on an analysis of the patient through a thermal camera, the system uses a collaborative robot to apply targeted laser therapy to identified pain, known as ‘hot spots.’

“Unlike conventional industrial robots that operate in a cage, collaborative robots are designed to work alongside people,” said Dr Matt Isaksson, senior lecturer and project leader at Swinburne.

“They are power and speed limited so they can collide with people without causing harm.”

Dr Isaksson’s aimed to develop an automatic solution for safe robotic examination and treatment of patients experiencing chronic pain.

“Using the same technology used in cricket to show whether the ball has made contact with the bat, a thermal camera scans the patient and locates injuries and inflammation through identifying hot spots in a thermal image,” Dr Isaksson said.

“The locations of the hot spot are then sent to the collaborative robot that moves a low-level infrared laser into contact with the patient to perform treatment.”

The project has delivered a fully working prototype for automated photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy for chronic pain. This is a form of therapy that applies low-level lasers or LED lights emitting diodes to the surface of the body to stimulate and heal soft tissue.

“Studies have shown PBM therapy to have positive effects on chronic pain symptoms,” said Dr Mark Rogers, a co-founder of IR Robotics and one of the Australian pioneers of PBM therapy.

“Introducing collaborative robots to deliver treatment has the potential to improve the precision of the therapy in addition to reducing costs involved. Building on Industry 4.0 technologies and big data analysis, the derived platform can self-adapt to provide individually optimal treatment.”

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