A college student in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, has designed a robot that he says can perform acupuncture.
Xu Tiancheng, a postgraduate student at Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said he was inspired by Baymax, the healthcare robot from the hit animated movie Big Hero 6. He said his robot can treat several ailments, including insomnia, stomachache and muscle fatigue.
"My father is an acupuncturist, and I noticed in his clinic that the most diligent acupuncturist can only treat about 100 patients a day," Xu said. "Robots can free practitioners from exhaustive, repetitive labor so they can focus on designing better treatment plans."
He said that although people have different body shapes, the acupoints - the right positions to perform acupuncture - are all in the same places on the human body.
"For example," Xu said, "one frequently used acupoint is the hegu, between the first and second dorsal metacarpal bones. To be exact, it is in the midpoint of the radial part of the second metacarpal bone, regardless of different body shapes. We only need to set up an accurate model for the robots to find the right acupoints."
Xu said his robot can measure a person's height and subcutaneous fat before calculating where and how deep to insert the needle. It also has ultrasonic sensors on its "hands" to prevent the needle going too deep.
"With the help of built-in sensors, the robot can also calculate muscle tension to avoid excessive pain for the patient," he said. "We have also designed 27,000 acupuncture treatments for the robot to perform."
Xu conceded that robots cannot be trusted with crucial parts of the body, such as the head, neck and waist.
More experiments are required before the robot can be used clinically, he said, but he added that several enterprises have already been in contact about collaborating.