The students working on the robotic percussion prototype

Engineering students in the British Empire receive the International Robotics Award | Empire News






A team of Imperial students has received a prestigious robotics award for their work in medical percussion.

The Department of Engineering student team – Pilar Chang Qiu, Yongxuan Tan, Oliver Thompson and Bennett Copley – won the prestigious Robotics Award, Best Application Paper Award (sponsored by ICROS), in 2022 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Robotics and Intelligent Systems in Kyoto, Japan.

Their paper, which originated as a group project, was selected for the prize from more than 3,500 papers presented at the conference.

supervised by Professor Thrishantha Nanayakkarathe team built an AI-powered robot capable of performing rudimentary percussion checks.

It was a life changing experience to be able to work with Professor Thrishantha Nanayakkara. Pilar Chang Qiu

Percussion is a clinical technique used to rapidly detect conditions, including hepatitis or the presence of fluid in the lungs, by tapping on the chest or abdomen. Different types of textures make different sounds when tapped; The solid mass makes a dull sound, while the sound produced by the hollow tissue is more resonant.

The nature of the sound can tell the doctor a lot about the tissues underneath and can help decide whether to pursue more expensive procedures such as an MRI scan.

Human percussion imitation

Demonstration of a robotic percussion instrument
Demonstration of a robotic percussion instrument

The team wanted their robot to mimic a human’s percussion as closely as possible, so they gave it two joints: one to mimic the elbow and one to mimic the wrist.

The robot taps silicone surfaces with embedded nodules designed to resemble abnormalities of human tissue. They used a communication microphone to record percussion sounds and analyzed the data using neural networks.

The team found that their system was able to identify and classify sounds based on the composition of the tissue underneath with an accuracy of 97.5%.

Benefits of robotic percussion

Having a robot perform the percussion reduces the discrepancy between doctors’ techniques and interpretations of results.

Pilar and Trishantha receiving their award
Pilar and Trishantha receiving their award

In addition, team member Pilar explained that the technology also has potential telehealth applications. For example, if someone is unable to physically attend a surgery, a robot could be available in their home to percussion, record sounds, and send initial assessments to a doctor for remote review.

Commenting on the project and the award, Pilar said: “It was a life-changing experience to be able to work with Professor Thrishantha Nanayakkara. One of the best things about Imperial is having access to researchers who are knowledgeable and passionate about their work.”


Annalize Murray

Annalize Murray

Center for Languages, Culture and Communication


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