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ROPCAs arthritis robot ARTHUR autonomously scans patients hands.

Will arthritis robot ARTHUR be a game changer for diagnosis?

The partnership between the Danish medical company ROPCA ApS and KUKA has propelled their newest medical robotics product “ARTHUR”. The arthritis robot, that is already launched in hospitals, is based on the LBR Med and supports rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. This gives way for an earlier treatment, which is essential for a good therapy outcome.

The cobot LBR Med – a perfect fit for ultrasound imaging

ROPCA ApS was founded by Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu and Søren Andreas Just, as a spin-off from University of Southern Denmark (SDU) in Odense. They are proud to present ARTHUR, their rheumatoid arthritis system. It can autonomously perform ultrasound scans of the bones in a person’s hands and thereby, detect joint damage. 

ROPCA started the development process using local robotic companies at first, but quickly realized that they needed a certified robot for ultrasound imaging. KUKA’s LBR Med is exactly what they were looking for. Since the LBR Med is already conform to medical standards, they could concentrate on their ultrasound application’s regulatory. This drastically reduced the bureaucracy and accelerated the market entry.

Patients profit from the imaging with ultrasound robot ARTHUR because of a faster rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. 

I think it’s very inspiring to create solutions that will help people, and that’s also why I’m particularly proud of ARTHUR because it’s already out there. While we’re speaking, it’s scanning patients with rheumatoid arthritis. That, in itself, is a great reward.

Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu, Chief Technical Officer at ROPCA ApS

The advantages of integrating the LBR Med into a rheumatoid arthritis system

For Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu, professor in medical robotics at the SDU, the advantages of using the LBR Med as the robotic component were obvious. The cobot LBR Med can do a soft landing right on the skin of the patient, out of the box with onboard, already available features of the controller and its medical operating system.

The LBR Med is a 7-joint robotic arm that provides an extra degree of freedom allowing collision and singularity avoidance. As the cobot and the human share their common “workspace” during ultrasound, the sensitive LBR Med fits the request for a robot to be around the patient. All in all, Savarimuthu concludes that “KUKA is a good choice, when you want to create medical products,” whether it is for assisting surgery, rehabilitation, or, as in this case, diagnosis.

The ultrasound probe is adjusted to ARTHURs flange.
Thanks to its seven joints, the LBR Med is predestined for integration into medical devices like the arthritis robot ARTHUR.

The ultrasound robot ARTHUR on its way to the market

Svendborg Hospital did a trial period with ARTHUR to test how patients with rheumatoid arthritis would react getting their scans from an ultrasound scanning robot. The trial was seeped through with the usability of the integrated LBR Med: everybody wanted to try the ultrasound system, and everyone felt very comfortable with it. Their study found the interaction between the cobot-based system with its autonomous robotic arm and the human to be very intuitive. Having ultrasound images of your hand taken by a robotic device turned out to be a success. 

  • Saving time

    The robotic ultrasound device enables more and faster diagnoses for patients.
  • Dependable results

    Ultrasound imaging enables reliable diagnosis using artificial intelligence.
  • Fast help

    Fast diagnoses based on AI enable fast and tailored treatments for patients.

AI supports early diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis

Bill Frederiksen, Senior Medical Officer in Rheumatology and Emergency Medicine at Svendborg Hospital, sees great opportunities for the implementation of ARTHUR delivering ultrasound images at the hospital and optimizing the workflow of diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis. Especially because the number of ultrasound patients is going up and the number of specialized doctors for treating rheumatoid arthritis remains the same or is even declining, robotic ultrasound is a great relief. 

The rheumatologist is pointing out a result of the ultrasound scan on the screen.
After the robotic ultrasound scanning, the doctor receives the images of the damaged joints. 

Therefore, implementing ARTHUR for capturing robotic imaging is a win-win situation for Frederiksen. The specialists will need help obtaining and maintaining an optimized workflow of the ultrasound scanning. And the patients will be able to get the ultrasound scan before seeing the specialists – and thus spend less time in the waiting room.

The system provides comprehensive imaging of joint damage in the hand. This repetitive ultrasound workflow is the ideal task for the integrated cobot LBR Med to automize. Artificial Intelligence supports during the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, this automation process by the robot helps monitoring a patient's rheumatoid arthritis more frequently. As Frederiksen puts it: "ARTHUR never gets tired and can scan 24/7."

If every potential arthritis patient starts with an ultrasound scan, rheumatologists will be able to select the person in need of urgent care, hence collecting more data earlier one secures a faster treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, ARTHUR with its robotic arm is consistent in scanning ultrasounds at a faster pace than a rheumatologist, which accelerates the whole process of rheumatoid arthritis treatment.

Arthritis robot ARTHUR delivers high quality ultrasound images.
The arthritis robot ARTHUR is always ready for the next patient and the next rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. 

From X-rays to ultrasound images created by an arthritis robot

Patient Flemming Poulsen reflects on the process before ARTHUR’s victory tour into the everyday life of rheumatology. Before the creation of the rheumatic arthritis robotic system, it was X-rays and ordinary ultrasound images which took a lot of time to base a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis on.

For Poulsen, the medical robot means that the rheumatologist can diagnose arthritis much quicker, and hence the treatment can start sooner. For him, having ARTHUR earlier in his treatment of rheumatoid arthritis would have made a great difference.

Rheumatologist and patient talk.
Svendborg Hospital patient Flemming Poulsen is discussing the best treatment for him after getting a robotic ultrasound with ARTHUR.

The quicker you get your treatment, the less physical bone damage you get, less severe treatment like surgery is necessary, and therefore, you can work longer.

Flemming Poulsen, patient at Svendborg Hospital

The ARTHUR experience of detecting rheumatoid arthritis

Poulsen finds the robotic system's scanning process for diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis very intuitive and says the ultrasound works as it should. Furthermore, it feels very trustworthy when the integrated cobot LBR Med approaches his hand for scanning the bones in order to check for possible signs of arthritis. “It doesn’t hurt anyone,” he says with a smile.

When you enter the room for ultrasound diagnosis, the arthritis robot tells you to scan your medical ID, put gel on your hand and follow the automatically given directions.

Arthritis robot ARTHUR is scanning the medical ID of a patient.
Before the ultrasound robot starts the automated diagnosis process patients scan their medical ID.  

Then you place your hand on the scanner and while ARTHUR starts the ultrasound scan autonomously, it also tells you what to do next. When the robotic scans are done, the ultrasound images are sent directly to the doctors. For Poulsen, there’s no reason to be afraid of the process, because the touch of the robot feels always gentle. The integrated LBR Med is sensitive and precise in its movements and the sensors in all seven axes of the robotic arm make the human robot collaboration extremly safe.

The ultrasound probe of the arthritis robot ARTHUR is lying softly on a patients hand and is scanning the joints.
Arthritis patient Flemming Poulsen describes arthritis robot ARTHUR's touch as extremely gentle.

What’s next for ROPCA in the medical sector?

Besides ultrasound images, Bill Frederiksen sees the potential for a robotic helping hand in other areas of the medical sector as well. As for now, he hopes that the implementation of ARTHUR will create a quicker and more efficient complement to the patient’s visit.

When it comes to the future of ROPCA, the co-founder is still a bit secretive, but what Savarimuthu wishes to disclose is that they are looking to expand worldwide. Moreover, ROPCA is planning to develop another medical robot. And so, the KUKA and ROPCA partnership will continue in the future - focusing on creating more applications and solutions to supplement the medical sector.