A nail-pierced hand catches a man falling from a rooftop and hoists him to safety: just one potent image from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner which I recently watched again. The hand is that of the fearsome genetically engineered replicant Roy Batty who mercifully saves Rick Deckard—the blade runner who has been pursuing him through a rain-sodden Los Angeles in a 2019 dystopia. After the encounter Deckard looks as though he could do with the services of a physiotherapist—but even in 2007 s/he may not be human.
New Scientist reports the use of robots in helping patients to recover from strokes. In the US 700 000 and in the UK 130 000 a year suffer a stroke making it the biggest cause of severe disability in both countries.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs (often ahead of the rest of healthcare) is running a clinical trial of MIT's wrist robot. Studies have shown patients prefer robotic therapy to home-based exercise, which could make them more likely to complete programmes of rehabilitation.
Will mechanical physios replace human ones? With 4000 unemployed and many of them heading for Canada, Australia and New Zealand to find jobs and experience, let's hope so.