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Collaboration is the word in a pioneering robotic surgery project that promises to revolutionize surgery as we know it. Multiple, snake-like devices controlled by a surgeon via joysticks will enter the patient’s body through natural orifices to perform life-saving procedures. By themselves these robotic devices will not be able to do much; by joining forces they will change the face of heart and trans-abdominal surgery.

Robots will collaborate with themselves and they will collaborate with humans in a complex, multi-arm, intuitive and adaptive system. Applications are many in the area of minimally invasive surgery and include heart, abdominal and urological procedures. “We aim to create a symbiosis between humans and robots,” says Professor Kaspar Althoefer, head of the Centre of Robotic Research at King’s College and leader of the project.

Sounds like science fiction?

Robotic surgery already a reality

Surgery performed with the aid of robotic devices is already happening with the famous Da Vinci robot used in a number of hospitals, including Guy’s Hospital where London’s leading surgeon Proka Dasgukpta carries out routinely prostatectomies. Da Vinci has done many a patient a life-saving service but this project goes one step further.

The robotic devices employed will not only ensure precision but also provide the surgeon with haptic feedback: though the surgeon will operate them remotely he or she will be able to feel inside the patient’s body as if the procedure was performed with bare hands.

Symbiosis of Robots and HumansCapek Play, Humans and Robots, 1920

The EU consortium working on this novel robotic surgery project comprises a variety of experts in cognitive sciences, robotics, sensing and medicine. It aims to create intelligent robotic systems that will be able operate autonomously as well as collaboratively: they will be able to sense, perceive, learn, reason and act.

“The cardiologist will interact with the robot in a symbiotic way training the robot to conduct tasks, whilst the robot will learn and become capable in time to support the clinician and form a symbiosis with the patient during the operation,” says Professor Althoefer. “It is a novel concept of robots that can be used in inaccessible environments, such as cardiac catheterization and generally minimally invasive surgery. Once developed these robotic surgery systems will also be of great benefit to cancer patients because the robotic devices are expected to support successful tumour resections.”

To Boldly Go

“The project” says Professor Althoefer, “is motivated by current research in medical robotics but also by biology and in particular by animals such as the octopus with its flexible and adaptable limbs.” Should the project be successful we may well be operated on by miniature robots which will be able to boldly go to areas of the body that are difficult to access.Simple, flexible robotic arms will assemble at the area of the body which needs repair, adapt to its environment and perform complex procedures. The surgeon will control them and they in turn will learn from and support the surgeon – a perfect symbiosis.

Led by King’s College London the EU consortium comprising experts from the UK, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Greece, hopes to revolutionize the way heart, gastro-intestinal, colorectal and urological operations are performed.

 

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