Robots at your service!

An army on the move to decontaminate, heal and clean!

By Morand Fachot

Service robots are proving increasingly valuable. They help deal with the consequences of industrial or natural disasters and other dangerous situations. They have opened up many opportunities in the health sector, from performing (or helping to perform) operations to rehabilitation, from remote diagnosis to assistance for the elderly and disabled. Home robots are also becoming more and more popular as they help tackle basic household chores.

Surgeons operating using a da Vinci Si Surgical System (Photo: ©2011 Intuitive Surgical, Inc.)


Robots and automated systems are being deployed more and more frequently to enter buildings, clean obstacles and rescue people following natural disasters such as earthquakes or landslides, or industrial accidents.

These robots are direct spin-offs of machines originally developed for use in the defence sector. They are robust and capable of operating in contaminated environments. New applications are being found for such systems, in particular in the treatment of toxic and dangerous waste.


Robotic systems are also being increasingly used in the medical domain, in particular in surgery. They allow very complex operations to be performed more safely in specialist areas such as cardiothoracic and orthopaedic surgery, and quicker recovery times often result.

They are also used to improve therapy and help patients regain the use of limbs or their mobility faster after strokes, spinal cord injuries or other lesions of the central nervous system.

As the world's population ages and requires more care, service robots are being developed to support both patients and medical staff. Devices capable of lifting and assisting disabled and elderly patients or helping them cope with day-to-day activities are being introduced.

Domestic aides

Modern households rely more and more on appliances to carry out a variety of tasks. Vacuum cleaning robots were first launched in 2001; like their floor-washing counterparts, which were introduced later, they play their part doing the chores.

They have to be compact to cover the greatest possible range of surfaces (wood, tiles or carpets), clean corners and along walls, and reach under furniture. They must also be able to move independently, negotiate their way around obstacles in rooms and meet certain conditions as regards safety and performance.

No robots without International Standards…

Being essentially electromechanical systems, robots depend on International Standards to ensure proper and safe operation. Many of these are prepared by various IEC TCs (Technical Committees) and their SCs (Subcommittees). They include TC 47: Semiconductor devices, TC 44: Safety of machinery – Electrotechnical aspects, and SC 65 A: Industrial process measurement, control and automation – Systems aspects.

A Joint Working Group, JWG 9, bringing together IEC SC 62A: Common aspects of electrical equipment used in medical practice, and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) TC 184/SC 2, was formed in June 2011 to prepare and publish International Standards that will help develop safe medical robots and contribute to their global introduction.

tc-13_packbot_lrg iRobot PackBot for hazardous environments (Photo: iRobot)
tc-13_samsung_navibot_lrg Samsung Navibot robotic vacuum cleaner (Photo: Samsung)
tc-13_da_vinci_lrg Surgeons operating using a da Vinci Si Surgical System (Photo: ©2011 Intuitive Surgical, Inc.)