Before you run through a brick wall like the Kool Aid Man and bolt down the street shrieking that the robot overlords are finally out for blood, take a deep breath and relax. The Veebot only wants to automate blood drawing and IV insertion for medical use.
Developed by its namesake California start-up, Veebot is a device that works like this: A patient puts his or her arm through archway situated over a padded table. An inflatable cuff tightens inside the archway, restricting blood flow, thus making veins easier to identify. An infrared light and camera searchers for a good vein, software cross references the image with a model of vein anatomy, while an ultrasound confirms the vein is big enough to draw a sufficient amount of blood. Veebot then aligns the needle and in it goes.
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The only thing a lab technician needs to do it is attach a syringe and draw the blood. The entire process takes about a minute.
Veebot can correctly identify the best vein about 83 percent of the time, about the same as a human lab technician. But Richard Harris, who co-founded the company in 2010, wants to get that number closer to 90 percent before the device undergoes clinical trials. Harris believes he can achieve that percentage in three to five months.
Eventually, Veebot will try and market its device to large medical facilities, where finding the right person to draw blood is not as easy as it sounds. Thomas Gunderson, managing director and a senior analyst at investment bank Piper Jaffray Companies, told IEEE Spectrum, "doctors today will search all over the hospital for the right person to do a blood draw, and they could still miss three or four times. Technology can help from a labor standpoint and make the procedure safer for the patient and for the person drawing the blood."
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But can patients overcome the psychological factor of having their blood drawn from a robot?
"If people don't want a robot drawing their blood, then nobody is going to use it," Harris said. "We believe if this machine works better, faster, and cheaper than a person, people will want to use it."