He expects robotic technology to become an integral part of medical school curricula within the next five years.
Allen foresees robotics reducing the number of staff needed at each surgery and alleviating the overall strain on surgeons. "While it's doubtful that you'll ever take the tools completely out of a surgeon's control - you want humans in the loop in case of an error - surgeons can form a partnership with the technology," he says.
The Robot Report's Tobe agrees, noting university research, including studies at Stanford University, on operating rooms of the future. Some are testing replacement of scrub nurses, anesthesiologists and other ancillary players with robots while surgeons navigate robotic arms by virtually mimicking gestures.
Like many of his idols and peers, Tobe is convinced that the collision of biotechnology, nanotechnology and robotics is bound to be life-changing.
At Boston-based Bluefin Robotics, System Engineer Mikell Taylor is singularly focused on pairing robotics with autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) for enhanced surveillance at sea and in port.
The AUVs, being developed for defense, commercial and scientific applications, are intended to obviate the need for divers and dolphins to survey the risk of potential areas. For instance, AUVs equipped with robotics can ferret out unexploded mines in the middle of the ocean so a charge can be dropped to neutralize them. Also, AUVs can circle ships near dock, investigating their hulls and detecting danger. If there is potential for harm, officials can keep them away from shore.
Another mission: Surveillance runs. AUVs are capable of gathering gigabytes or more of critical data through sonar images, camera stills and other high-tech components. Data snippets and alerts can either be transmitted in real time over low-bandwidth acoustic modems, periodically from surface-to-satellite connections, or downloaded in full over high-speed links upon the AUV's return.
Unlike their brethren, predator drones and unmanned tanks, Taylor says AUVs won't be used in military engagements. "The robotic AUVs won't replace weapons such as torpedoes because they can't yet react to the environment. They're autonomous, but not intelligent," Taylor says.
Like Allen, she believes that projects like those she is working on are possible today because of the reduction in robotics costs.