Many of us have had chance encounters with medical professionals who aren’t yet adept at drawing blood. After just one of these unpleasant experiences, you’ll understand the appeal of the new venipuncture robot from Rutgers University. Not only can this robot find a vein on the first try, but it can also process the blood and perform basic analysis on it.
The robot has not yet been given permission to stab into the unyielding flesh of a human volunteer. However, the team has built a passable artificial arm for testing purposes. When and if the venipuncture robot becomes a reality, the patient will start by placing his or her arm on the platform under the robot’s arm. The robot uses a camera to scan the arm and identify veins. Unlike a human, the robot can address common issues with lining up a vein with the needle.
Once the system has infiltrated a vein, it can begin drawing blood directly into a testing apparatus. The blood (which isn’t actually blood in testing) flows into a centrifuge, where it can be spun to separate blood cells from plasma. This is necessary because most blood tests require just the plasma — the liquid portion of blood.
The centrifuge passes the plasma into a blood analyzer. Samples could also be diverted for more advanced testing that requires a human’s touch (at least for now). It uses a microfluidic array to run tests on the sample, providing results without any direct human interaction. In fact, there’s no human interaction at all right now. The artificial arm created by the researchers consists of a rubber surface with plastic tubes underneath. Rather than blood, the tubes have a blood-like fluid with a suspension of fluorescent microbeads (these simulate the cells). The team says this fluid has been used to conduct highly accurate “simulated” blood tests on the system. You can see the entire process in the video above.
If work on the venipuncture robots continues to advance, it could be a substantial benefit to doctors and other medical professionals. This robot could do a full range of blood collection and testing in a single location instead of having fallible humans always drawing blood, manually processing it, and sending it off for testing. We’re still probably some way from that reality, though. The team still has to prove the machine is safe and reliable enough to be trusted with a real arm.