Rutgers’ AI-powered robot is designed to make drawing blood easier

A team from Rutgers University just unveiled a robot that can draw blood.
Image: Martin Yarmush and Alvin Chen

It’s official. Robots are after human blood—just not in the way that you might think. A new tabletop robot from Rutgers University is designed to help make drawing blood and inserting IVs easier.

Having your blood drawn can be the scariest part of a hospital experience. Despite the fact that nurses are incredibly good at doing it, today’s most commonly used methods rely on a sense of touch and intuition.

The new Rutgers machine uses a combination of ultrasound imaging, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic stability to complete the procedure with a more scientific approach.

Built for Everyone

The Rutgers team set out to solve a problem that has plagued healthcare workers for decades. Although most IV insertions and blood draws are fairly simple, about 20 percent of patients are more complex. This is partially due to factors like small veins, rolling veins, and elderly patients who are simply hard to stick.

For this population, less than 50 percent of needlesticks are successful on the first try. Some patients must undergo as many as five attempts, leading to delays in treatment and unnecessary suffering.

Although some advances have been made, like using infrared light to map out a patient’s veins, none are as impressive as this bot from Rutgers.

Instead of simply identifying where the veins are, the machine is able to accurately insert needles into them with an extremely high success rate. It uses an AI program that analyzes data from an ultrasound imaging system to identify the vessels.

The robot then classifies them, estimates how deep they lie under the skin, and is able to autonomously carry out the IV insertion or blood draw procedure. As long as the patient holds their arm still, the robot rarely misses.

The team’s research was published in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence.

Huge Implications

Results from the team’s research with the robot are impressive. Martin Yarmush oversaw the study. He says, “Using volunteers, models and animals, our team showed that the device can accurately pinpoint blood vessels, improving success rates and procedure times compared with expert health care professionals, especially with difficult to access blood vessels.”

Obtaining intravenous access is a critical first step in the healthcare world. It not only opens the doors for diagnostic procedures, but it also gives nurses a way to administer medications, fluids, and draw blood. Moreover, different types of arterial and venous access are utilized for procedures like heart stent placement.

The team plans to continue testing their robot in a broader range of people. It will try its “hand” at placing IVs and drawing blood in patients with normal veins and difficult ones. This will help determine if the bot could realistically find a place in the healthcare setting. If so, it would be an extremely valuable asset in hospitals, clinics, and even labs.

Meanwhile, the team is working to modify the device so it can also be used to draw blood from rodents. This is a crucial step in the drug testing process.


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