MRC Seminar: Towards Autonomous Robots for Healthcare

Friday, April 19, 2024
2:00 p.m.
JMP 2116

Towards Autonomous Robots for Healthcare

Streaming Link

Ron Alterovitz
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Advances in robotics have the potential to improve healthcare, from enabling surgical procedures that are beyond current clinical capabilities to assisting people with daily tasks in their homes. In this talk, we will discuss new algorithms to enable medical and assistive robots to operate autonomously by learning and planning their motions. We begin by showing the feasibility and advantages of deploying autonomous medical robots in living tissue with the goal of achieving unprecedented levels of accuracy and precision, reducing the physicians’ mental load so they can focus on other aspects of the procedure, and improving patient outcomes. We present the first medical robot capable of autonomously maneuvering a needle to reach a target while avoiding anatomical obstacles in living tissue. Motivated by lung cancer, which kills over 120,000 Americans each year, the medical robot used a steerable needle to access sites within living, breathing lungs for diagnosis and treatment. The robot’s steerable needle automatically maneuvered around anatomical obstacles to perform procedures at sites not safely reachable using traditional instruments. We also demonstrated that our approach offers greater accuracy compared with a standard human-controlled technique. Next, I will present novel algorithms for robotic assistance in the home using demonstration-guided motion planning, an approach in which the robot first learns an assistive task from human-conducted demonstrations and then autonomously plans motions to accomplish the learned task in new, dynamic environments cluttered with obstacles. Our results show the benefits and potential of deploying autonomous robots to improve healthcare, both in hospitals and in homes.


Ron Alterovitz is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He leads the Computational Robotics Research Group which develops novel algorithms for robots to learn and plan their motions, with a focus on enabling robots to perform new, less invasive medical procedures and to assist people in their homes. Prior to joining UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009, Dr. Alterovitz earned his B.S. with Honors from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), completed his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, and conducted postdoctoral research at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center and a French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) lab in Toulouse, France. Dr. Alterovitz has co-authored a book on Motion Planning in Medicine, is co-inventor on three patents, and has received multiple best paper awards at robotics and computer-assisted medicine conferences. He is the recipient of an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, two UNC Computer Science Department Excellence in Teaching Awards, an NSF Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Host: Dinesh Manocha

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