Dutch innovation agency, TNO, has published a ‘robo roadmap’ on the way forward for robotics in the medical and health arena for the next fifteen years.

The agency developed the roadmap as part of an EU funded study to provide the European Commission with policy recommendations for the application of robots in the future, including in healthcare.

The robots for health (R4H) roadmap identified the six areas as smart medical capsules, which can travel through the body administering drugs or gathering information and performing surgical procedures and intelligent prosthetics that can be controlled by the mind as particularly interesting areas.

It also acknowledged that home patient monitoring systems, robotised analysis and therapy of motor coordination, robot assisted mental cognitive and social therapies and surgical robots as areas of great importance.

It also details that the connection between research and the industry and end users is limited, as is hard evidence on actual benefit. The study recommends that the EC further develops the area in the FP7 framework programme.

Rensma said: “One of the biggest barriers in the commercialisation of robotics for care is the way healthcare systems are currently funded. More user involvement is needed to develop the right robotic application starting with relatively easy applications while keeping an eye on the complex ones in the future.”

However, as part of the policy recommendations the study confirms that despite some commercial products being available on the market the application of robotics in healthcare is “still in its infancy.”

The study, which involved desk research and consultations with more than 50 experts across Europe, was led by senior consultant innovation policy at TNO, Arjan Rensma.

Researchers from Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Germany, VTT technical research, Finland, Vilans, New Zealand and EuroAct, Japan were also involved.

The study found 21 main innovation areas showing commercial potential, which were cut down to six key areas deemed as “ripe for investigation and road mapping.”

The results of the study have been presented at the Dutch Robotics Conference and the International Conference in Rehabilitation Robotics and will continue to be presented in the autumn.