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Whatever ails you, a robot could soon be there to fix it

Surgical and medical robots stole the show at UK Robotics Week 2017. Here are the highlights.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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Robots in your office, robots in hospitals, robots at home. Is there anywhere robots won't be in the future?

From what CNET saw at the culmination of UK Robotics Week, it looks like the answer is no. They'll be everywhere.

The robotics world gathered in London last Friday for the International Robotics Showcase. We caught up with MiRo, the adorable companion robot who could help with care of the elderly, and met Lucie, a robot who's been hanging out in offices around the UK to learn about human environments and activities as part of a project being run by the University of Leeds.

But stealing the show were the robots designed for medical care. A 3D-printed biopsy robot became the talk of Robotics Week after it won the Surgery Challenge. Speaking at the opening of the showcase, Robotics Week organizer Guang-Zhong Yang, who's also the co-founder of the Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery and deputy chairman of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College, said we're moving toward a place where robots "could effectively operate at the same level as junior consultants."

Thanks to robots, he said, open surgery is increasingly being replaced by minimally invasive techniques. Not only can robotics in surgery "benefit the population at large," he added, it also "can be used as a resource in poor countries" where there are fewer doctors to go around.

The showcase offered a glimpse into our robot-assisted future. Robots already vacuum our carpets and even serve us drinks, but this event showed that they'll eventually have a much more significant impact on our lives and well-being. There's a reason why research firm Tractica estimates that the robotics industry will generate $237 billion in revenue by 2022, compared with less than $50 billion this year. 

One project shown off by the University of Leeds involved a 3D-printed endoscope that's cheap, compact and portable and that can be used by non-specialist medical staff to look for cancer in the stomach and esophagus. A tablet or mobile phone can be used to view the images from the camera in real time.

The tech is currently in trial stage, but one hope is that it will be used in rural areas of China, where the mortality rate from stomach cancer is three times that in cities, due to lack of specialist facilities. The Leeds researchers are also collaborating with a team at University College London to develop image recognition software that will be able to recognize lesions on behalf of medical staff.

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The robotic endoscope could help diagnoses of stomach cancer.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Another University of Leeds project is aiming to use a robotic arm attached to a computer screen for the rehabilitation of stroke victims and children with cerebral palsy. The robotic arm guides and is guided by patients who play games designed to help rebuild the neurological link between brains and muscles.

Soft prosthetics being demonstrated by University College London, meanwhile, can not only replicate the real feel of a human hand, but use air pressure so that all of the fingers can be controlled precisely and separately. You can see the hand and more cool robots in action by checking out our video above.

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