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New Way to Draw Blood: Veebot, a Robot Phlebotomist with 83 Percent Accuracy

Robot Phlebotomist

There’s a new way to draw blood from patients with a high accuracy than a human. It’s called Veebot, the Robotic Phlebotomist that can ultimately speed up the process of drawing blood or inserting IVs.

The whole process takes about a minute, and tests of the Veebot show that it can correctly identify the best vein to draw blood from with approximately 83% accuracy. The team is currently working on upping that rate to 90 percent accuracy before starting clinical trials. The robot won’t be taking over any jobs. The human phlebotomist still needs to load the test tube or IV bag, disinfect the arm and clean the puncture afterwards.

Veebot, made by a startup based in Mountain View, Califorbia, scans the patient’s arm using a visual analysis capability to select the vein. While seated, the patient puts his or her arm through an inflatable cuff, which acts as a tourniquet to restrict blood flow. The robotic medical technician then uses ultrasound and infrared light to search for veins before aligning and inserting a needle. Next, ultrasound confirms that the chosen vein has sufficient blood flow for a successful blood draw. Finally, the robotic arm aligns itself with the chosen vein and inserts the needle.

Veebot’s Richard Harris, a third-year undergraduate in Princeton University’s mechanical engineering program, tells IEEE Spectrum that the idea started in 2009 and it combined his love for both robotics and computer vision. “It had demanding requirements because you’d be fully automating something that is different every time and deals with humans,” he explained.

He built a prototype that could find and puncture dots drawn on flexible plastic tubing, and with funding from his father, he cofounded Veebot in 2010.

Now that a successful version is nearly ready, Harris is gearing up to sell to large medical facilities with an estimated market of $9 million.

The biggest challenge, Harris says, is human psychology. “If people don’t want a robot drawing their blood, then nobody is going to use it. We believe if this machine works better, faster, and cheaper than a person, people will want to use it.”

Robot Draws Blood

This robot system can find a vein and place a needle at least as well as a human can. Veebot, a start-up in Mountain View, Calif., is hoping to automate drawing blood and inserting IVs by combining robotics with image-analysis software.

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