During keyhole surgery, surgeons typically rely on sight as they remotely control the delicate operation.
A new robot promises to give them one important extra sense: touch.
The invention, revealed Wednesday at the Australasian Simulation Congress in Melbourne, Australia, is called the HeroSurg. Created by a team at Australia’s Deakin University, as well as Harvard University, the robot may look a little terrifying but its inventors hope it will make operations safer and more accurate.
Unlike most current keyhole surgery tools, the robot uses haptic feedback to deliver a sense of touch to the operator, as well as 3D images so the surgeon can see where their instruments are placed.
The project lead, Mohsen Moradi Dalvand, has been working with medical robotics and haptic systems for almost one decade.
The robot is a “master and slave” robotic surgical system, he told Mashable. “On the ‘slave’ side, it has multiple robotic arms with instruments and laparoscope. On the ‘master’ side, we have haptic-enabled handles for the surgeons to operate the instruments.”
The instruments he developed can measure the exact amount of force being wielded by the medical instruments on the body and convey that to the surgeon through the handles.
“If the surgeon is grasping something using the instruments, or if they’re cutting the tissue, they can feel the amount of force they are applying to the tissue,” he said. “When you have the ability to measure or feel the interaction forces … you can touch the instruments and feel how stiff [the tissues] are, how soft they are, to what extent the tissues are normal or abnormal.”
“Tactile feedback allows a surgeon to differentiate between tissues and to ‘feel’ delicate tissues weakened by infection or inflammation and dissect them more carefully,” Suren Krishnan, a professor at Royal Adelaide Hospital said in an statement.
The HeroSurg is intended for use during laparoscopic surgery, and in particular, for delicate operations where the surgeon may be suturing delicate tissue.
Robotic surgical systems are growing in use and popularity, but Dalvand claimed HeroSurg stands out because of its haptic feedback ability as well as features like collision avoidance and the ability to automatically adjust to the patient and bed.
“The surgeon doesn’t need to worry about if he is moving the robot towards a collision in or outside the patient’s body,” he explained.
Hospitals are increasingly motivated to have robotics in their operating rooms for the efficiency and accuracy they can provide.
“We are hoping to just fill a gap here, because when we spoke with surgeons, they all spoke about having haptic feedback, a sense of touch, and the limitations they have with the current systems because they do not feel the actual tissue,” Dalvand added.
Currently, he and his team are working with surgeons in Australia to get their feedback and improve the system, to be followed by animal trials. They are also looking for a commercial partner to help roll out the technology to hospitals globally.
While he did not want to name an exact price for the robot, he suggested it would be a “fraction of the number” of current available systems.
Dalvand also sees the HeroSurg being in situations where there are kilometres between doctor and patient.
“Just imagine in a prison … we can have the ‘slave’ arm there and the ‘master’ arm somewhere outside. Or in war zones, the same idea,” he suggested.
In other words, your surgeon could one day be operating on you from the other side of the world.