The merger between the medical and technological worlds will never cease to surprise us as new discoveries and methods of performing different surgical procedures are beginning to look every day more and more like something that would only dwell in the most distant parts of our imagination. A once science-fictional world is gradually coming to life and not in the way of feeding absurd fears regarding apocalyptic scenarios that imply robots taking over the earth, but in a way that this brilliant, scientific and technological progress is working in our favor and towards our well-being. What do you say about a robotic system that doesn’t get tired, have bad days or the slightest problem in staying completely focused on its job and is also able to perfectly sew up soft tissue? Probably, “welcome to the operating room”.

 

“What do you say about a robotic system that doesn’t get tired, have bad days or the slightest problem in staying completely focused on its job and is also able to perfectly sew up soft tissue? Probably, “welcome to the operating room”.”

 

Well, this machine is on its way there, it just needs a little more testing done before being granted full trust in handling its potential patients. The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot  (STAR) has been developed by researchers at Children’s National Health System, in Washington, D.C., and has proven its efficiency in stitching together soft tissue using a needle and thread, more precisely  than any human surgeon witnessed performing this procedure (submilimeter precision to be more exact).

 

The machine is an advanced industrial robot that uses a state-of-the-art 3D imaging system and high-tech force sensors for an undeniable precision in applying stitches. Its autonomy is what comes as a complete novelty in the field as other surgical robots currently used, are controlled by remote and are implicitly dependent on a specialist for almost every move they make during a surgical procedure, this leaving enough room for end results to be influenced by human error. As described in the May 4th, 2016 article, Supervised autonomous robotic soft tissue surgery, in Science Translational Medicine, STAR has the potential of improving the outcome of different soft-tissue surgical procedures, which would result in lending this very capable robotic hand more than 45 million surgeries in need of being performed every year in the US.

 

“Its autonomy is what comes as a complete novelty in the field as other surgical robots currently used, are controlled by remote and are implicitly dependent on a specialist for almost every move they make during a surgical procedure, this leaving enough room for end results to be influenced by human error.”

 

Imagine that you need a surgery, or your loved one needs a surgery. Wouldn’t it be critical to have the best surgeon and the best surgical techniques available?” (Peter Kim, Pediatric Surgeon at Children’s National and project research leader).

 

However, using such a robot should not be seen as a complete takeover of human surgeons, as it will still need some supervision and programming, but as an ideal collaboration between man and technology that will reduce the number of complications and offer better and consistent results following operations such as those for hernias or torn muscles.

 

The Sci-Fi broadcast doesn’t stop here as ambitious ideals in the robotic-surgery department are constantly growing. Ken Goldberg, professor at UC Berkeley and research supervisor in Robotics, Automation and New Media is keen on developing robotic surgical systems that are independent of manual programming and are able to learn procedures by themselves, solely by observing the human surgeon perform them. Time and effort in this direction will most probably bring about such an incredible performance as well.

Copying the skill of experts is really the next step here.” (Ken Goldberg for MIT Technology Review)

 

Written by R.F.I

26.06.2016

Sources:

http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/8/337/337ra64

http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/robotics/medical-robots/autonomous-robot-surgeon-bests-human-surgeons-in-world-first

http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/05/smart-sewing-machine-nails-worlds-first-autonomous-soft-tissue-surgery/

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601378/nimble-fingered-robot-outperforms-the-best-human-surgeons/